In a previous rant, I’d blabbered on about how I think Denver’s best chance at making it deep into the postseason went through the Los Angeles Lakers. I thought Denver’s high tempo style of play, young legs and overwhelming ability to score would be exactly what’s needed to beat Kobe Bryant and the Lakers. Boy was I wrong.
In both of the Nuggets losses in Los Angeles, the Lakers have taken advantage of the young team and really given them a clinic on what playoff basketball is all about. Yes, the Nuggets look a little starry eyed under the pressure of the playoffs.
In game 1 of the series, Denver was embarrassed 103-88. That score was really a direct result of the Nuggets starting the game slow. Denver missed 15 of 20 shots and committed five turnovers in the first quarter. Off the bench, Corey Brewer and Al Harrington caught a little fire and brought Denver within four points in the second quarter, but things went down hill from there. The Nuggets went into the locker room at the half down by 10 points and never got under that in the second half. According to NBA.com, the Nuggets had a season low shooting percentage of 35.6 percent in the game. Not exactly the time to hit rock bottom.
I don’t know what it was in this game, but Denver never really looked like the team we’d been watching all season long. The rookie Kenneth Faried was unable to get his rebounding working. Ty Lawson didn’t score a point until late in the game. Danilo Gallinari’s shot is still rusty after a mid-season injury. The Nuggets looked like a young team in over their heads on Sunday.
The Lakers, on the other hand, looked like the championship-caliber team they always are. Bryant’s shot has never looked better, Pau Gasol’s neck beard is still gross and the young Andrew Bynum’s defense has never been stronger. Bynum’s 10 blocks in that game tied an NBA playoff record held by Mark Eaton and Hakeem Olajuwon. He finished the game with a triple-double. (Man, I forgot how big that guy is. With Bynum and Gasol in the paint, there’s no way to get to the basket.)
Tuesday night’s game started in much the same way. The Nuggets’ shots weren’t falling and once again they were playing catch-up to the Lakers who this time were lead by Bryant, who couldn’t miss. At half time, I was half ready to throw the towel in on the Nuggets’ season and watch nothing but hockey and baseball (I am still considering this notion), but in the second half the Nuggets started playing like the Nuggets we are used to. Lawson was able to spring to the hoop for quick layups. Faried started to crash the boards and grabbed some offensive rebounds. They were able to drop a few threes here and there. Denver was able to rally from a 19-point deficit in the second half, only to lose 104-100. If anything, this game gave me hope that Denver can at least win one or two in the series.
They played tough and barely lost. Kobe was unbelievable, though. I’ve never been more frustrated with an opponent than with Kobe Bryant. His little toe-tapping two step that leads into an impossible fall away three-point shot kills me. He’s so damn good at it and there’s nothing any player in the league can do about it. I will say it looked like none of the Nuggets had the ability to guard Kobe at least somewhat effectively, and then midway through the third quarter the young and ever scrappy Brewer (after getting bitched by Kobe a few times earlier in the game) decided to get physical with him and it worked. Kobe became frustrated and lost his shot, at least for a while.
Off the bench, JaVale McGee showed some good defensive skills coming in to grab nine rebounds and six blocked shots. McGee is a big body and can match up with Bynum. I like his rebounding but his shots are way off so far. Hopefully the kid can find some touch when he’s looking for an easy layup.
“We definitely took a step forward,” McGee told NBA.com. “We’re starting to figure out what we have to do against this team and it’s starting to work for us.”
I would agree with McGee. Denver didn’t get their ass kicked on Tuesday. They lost to Kobe Bryant and his circus-act three-point fall-away shots. There is hope for this team. Whether or not they have it in them to come back from an 0-2 deficit in this series seems unlikely but I do believe they have it in them to win at least one or two this series. Hell, if they can find a way to win the next two at home maybe Kobe’s age will come into play?
For us Nuggets fans, at least Tuesday’s game gives us a little hope that Denver may be able to at least compete. The New York Knicks, on the other hand, are embarrassing themselves. They got absolutely blown out in their first game 100-67 and after their game 2 loss (104-94), Amare Stoudemire decided to take his aggression out on a poor fire hydrant and cut his hand up. Looks like he’s out for the rest of the playoffs. And with Carmelo Anthony faltering in the postseason once again (surprise, surprise) the Knicks are the laughing stock of the NBA right now.
Denver may be down 0-2 but at least they aren’t down 0-2 the same way the Knicks are. At least there’s hope on Denver’s horizon.
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