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Nuggets Applying Pressure on Kobe, Lakers


What else am I supposed to do? (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)


It would be easy to convince yourself that the Los Angeles Lakers should emerge victorious in the Western Conference Finals based on their 65-win season and the presence of the best closer in the game. But the Denver Nuggets' 120-101 victory in Game 4 on Monday complicates things immensely and may have been more emblematic of what's to come in the next two or three games.

The Lakers are tired and banged up, and very lucky to be tied 2-2. They have won on talent most of this season, but they haven't exactly been the better team in their wins against Denver. The Nuggets also have talent but they just haven't always played smart.

The two bad inbounds passes and the technical foul point giveaway and awful three-point shooting in Game 3, all showed how Denver can be its own worst enemy sometimes. Even in the Nuggets' win last night, they were teetering on the edge as J.R. Smith, Carmelo Anthony and Kenyon Martin picked up three unnecessary technicals in the fourth quarter, allowing the Lakers to make the game closer than it needed to be -- until Smith dropped the hammer with two crushing three-pointers.

"They just kicked our [tails]," Kobe Bryant said afterward. "It's not like we can turn it on, turn it off. They whooped us, period. They whooped us on the glass. They whooped us to loose balls. They played harder and better, period."

But the Nuggets are capable of playing at that pace again. Martin (15 rebounds), Chris Andersen (14 rebounds) and Nene (13 rebounds) combined to have more rebounds than the Lakers (40) and became the first trio with at least 13 rebounds apiece in 15 years. It's also encouraging for them that they were able to destroy the Lakers without having a big night from Anthony, who battled the flu and an off jumper and scored just 15 points. The Lakers have won only once this postseason without Bryant scoring at least 24 points.


Heeeellppp!!! (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

And, while the Nuggets can run, the Lakers might not be able to get into a foot race with anybody right now. Trevor Ariza is really aching because of a sore groin and hip injury that had him walking out of the arena as if he had ridden a horse for three hours on Saturday. After getting his second late-game steal in Game 3, Ariza could contribute only three points in Game 4, his lowest scoring output of his first real postseason.

Hard to remember, but Lamar Odom averaged 17.8 points and 11 rebounds in the first round against Utah. His production has declined since suffering a bruised lower back in Game 4 against Houston. After scoring in double figures in six of his first eight games, he has done so in only two of his past eight. Odom had just five points and eight rebounds last night. He has had just one game with double-digit rebounds after the fall.

That only increases the burden on Bryant, who made the rare admission of fatigue after scoring 41 points in Game 3. He had his fourth consecutive 30-point game with another 34 on Monday and is averaging 36.8 points against Denver. Last season in the Western Conference Finals, Bryant only had two games with 30 or more points and the Lakers beat San Antonio in five games.

Pau Gasol had his seventh consecutive double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Andrew Bynum added 14 points, but the Lakers cannot win this series expecting Bryant to bail them out with 40-point games. Then again, that might be the only way.

By Michael Lee  |  May 26, 2009; 9:04 AM ET
 
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Comments

The Lakers can win this series, but they will be incredibly too tired for the finals.

When your starting center is coming off a Knee surgery and your two best complimentary role players are playing hurt, and your susperstar is tired...then theres some issues.

If denver comes out with anything less than an A game for the rest of the series then they will surely lose. Because the Lakers havent played thier A game since the Utah series.

Posted by: jasperhneyaolcom | May 26, 2009 9:23 AM | Report abuse

This series is one strong piece of evidence that it is harder to come out of the West than the East.

Not that the Nuggets & Lakers is a harder series than Cavs & Magic... no, it is the PREVIOUS series and what the Rockets did to the Lakers. They wore them down both physically and mentally.

Posted by: CrabHands | May 26, 2009 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Although I was hoping for a Kobe - Le Bron Final I dont think either team is the better team in their current series and the best basketball would be played by the Magic - Nuggets in the finals. It will probably be the lowest rated TV final in decades and the best in years.

GO MAGIC!!!???

Posted by: squammy | May 26, 2009 10:32 AM | Report abuse

Just reading that the Magic will almost certainly lose Turkoglu at season's end, when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. The playoffs have really boosted his value on the open market and Orlando is not a big bidder. Too bad, he's a nice fit for that club. It does give them a little extra incentive for this year -- as if they needed it.

Sitting Bynum down for most of the game -- which Phil Jackson is doing because he thinks Andrew is a crummy defender -- is really hurting LA on the boards. Bynum is the biggest, strongest, and most athletic center in the West and causes all sorts of problems for smaller guys like Kenyon Martin and Chris Anderson.

Posted by: Samson151 | May 26, 2009 10:54 AM | Report abuse


I think the Lakers will win the series because the Nuggets make too many mistakes. The Nuggets can commit to many turnovers, the poor free throw shooting and terrible transition defense. The Nuggets do too much complaining and not enough focusing. The Nuggets has played well at home throughout the playoffs but makes poor fundamental mistakes on the road. Lakers, I don't know what the problem is with the team. Game 3 they play very well, then Game 4 they lay a huge egg. Can't point to injuries because everyone is hurting at this point of the season. It is just very poor play and lack of motivation from the players. Odom hasn't done well since coming off the bench Ariza is a hot/cold player and Gasol is starting the turn the corner. But the Lakers point guards are getting beat badly and their being badly out rebounded.

My guess with the Lakers, their biggest problem is their bench play. Phil expects Odom, Walton, Sasha, Farmer, etc to help the starters but instead they don't perform well at all. Meanwhile, players like Anderson and JR Smith provide their team with quality minutes. Agasin I expect the Lakers to win because of the home court advantage but this team needs to find some motivation in order to escape the series.

The Cavs are in trouble, they can't match up with anyone. And if Dwight Howard is giving the Magic 20+ points there is no hope for Cavs to win the series. Unless the conspiracy theorist believe that David Stern will make sure LeBron gets to the NBA Finals..lol

Posted by: rcnasa | May 26, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

I was only "also watching" the game last night (had it on mute while watching hulu). Holy cow, does any team flop more than the Lakers? Kobe and Gasol seemed to be the biggest offenders, but geez, seems like that team spent more time on the floor than they did on their feet.

Posted by: VTDuffman | May 26, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

This year, if the Lakers make the finals they are likely to be a tired team.

If the Cavaliers manage to come back on the Magic, they will be a team that is suddenly showing some near fatal flaws.

Might not turn out to be the classic showdown that Stern, Nike, Vitamin-Water, and God knows what other corporate sponsors have invested in.

Look for Cleveland to go to "Slap a Superman" tonight. Brown will likely go to a tag team approach to see if he can get the "Man of Steel" involved in a scuffle and get that one game suspension.

If the Cav's manage that, and get past Orlando because the Magic lost their best player to a suspension, that's going to really taint the finals. If Howard draws a tech foul on a double technical call, it will really smell.

Watching these games, I've got to agree with Larry. These top team's have some real flaws, a healthy Wizards team with the addition of the number 5 pick could matchup well with Cleveland or Orlando.

To do so the Wiz need more depth at center. Can't match up with either Big Z or Howard with Songaila or Blatche. Haywood needs a backups. McGee can play some center, but honestly the guy would match up better with "Sideshow Bob".

Each year somebody falls in the draft unexpectedly, It's possible Thabeet could slip a few notches and still be there at the 5. If he is, the Wiz should snatch him.

A lot of Cleveland's parts suddenly look old in this round. They may get past Orlando this year, but they've got a group of guys that the Magic is making look old and a step slow right now. A strong team wouldn't have to be making all of the defensive switches that Clevland's making.

A healthy big three, along with a group of ascending young talent, could put the Wiz back into the thick of things next year. I wouldn't be real quick to ship some of these young guys out until Flip's staff has a year to work with them.

The Conference finals should make it clear that a team can't advance while playing "small ball". The Wiz need to think big in this draft, if Thabeet isn't available I'd turn to Blair.
GM

Posted by: flohrtv | May 26, 2009 11:08 AM | Report abuse

Funny how folks are more critical of Odom and the guy does not even start!

Where's Andrew Bynum? Where's Gasol? Gasol has a few offensive spurts, but who is supposed to be blocking out Birdman and K-Mart? If it were not for Nene and his blunders I think this could be a 3-1 series.

Posted by: oknow1 | May 26, 2009 11:33 AM | Report abuse

flohertv said "A healthy big three, along with a group of ascending young talent, could put the Wiz back into the thick of things next year. I wouldn't be real quick to ship some of these young guys out until Flip's staff has a year to work with them."

I been saying that all along. A healthy wizards team can compete with any team in the east. This non-sense predicting a 7 or 8 seed next year comes from people being punks and just looking at the recent past without really knowing basketball. These same people said cleveland would win the east. Cleveland is in the same basket with Washington, Boston, Orlando. Throw them in a basket and pick one. All capable of winning the east.

I put the wizards up there because of the overall improvement of the team. The wizards will no longer be dominated by a Big 3. It will be a more complete team, 8 - 11 deep, legitimate.

Posted by: G-Man11 | May 26, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

As a Nuggets fan, I am one of the 2% of the sports population that DOESN'T want to see a Kobe-LeBron matchup! That said, Denver has been the better team in all of the games, in my biased opinion, and would probably be up 3-1 or have won the series if the Nuggets did not also have to play against 3 extra people on the court that wear grey shirts. Did anyone notice that both Dwight Howard AND 'Melo both fouled out of a game so far in this round? Do you think Kobe or LeBron are ever going to foul out? lol

Seriously, someday the NBA is going to have to crack down on the separate set of rules for the big superstars vs. everyone else.

Posted by: Dougmacintyre | May 26, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

The biggest difference has been in the bench play with Odom, Walton, Farmar, Vujavic all being non-factors. Odom has been MIA which may be due to the fact that his back is bothering him more than people know. The Nuggets simply look to be the quicker, fresher, and stronger team than the Lakers at this point. It looks like the 7-game series vs. Houston has drained the Lakers and their starters have played too many minutes.

Kobe is great, but he needs more help from the complimentary players like Odom and Fisher to get it done. Except for Gasol who has played fairly well, the supporting cast has been outplayed at every position. Denver has been the better team in every game and should be up at least 3-1 in the series except for some mental breakdowns.

I see Denver winning this in 6 unless the Lakers have something left in the tank.

Posted by: wizfan89 | May 26, 2009 12:27 PM | Report abuse

I said before it started that the Nuggets had a good chance of knocking off L.A. The Rockets series exposed some major flaws in the Lakers that the Nuggets have exploited. Their biggest problem, however, is a mental one. Some of their key guys appear to have lost confidence and, as a result, Kobe appears to have lost some confidence in his teammates. I think Bynum is buckling under the weight of expectations. After they lost to Boston last year the Lakers, almost to a man, blamed their lack of toughness as the main reason why and everyone pointed to Bynum's absence as a key factor. Basically, they put him in a position where he was the key to them winning a title, and that's a lot of pressure to put on a young guy who's coming back from two long injury layoffs and just now learning how to be an everyday contributor.

Posted by: kalo_rama | May 26, 2009 12:38 PM | Report abuse

This has been a very good series - for the Nuggets they have 8 players who have all chipped in at times and done well. Denver is proving they don't have to just rely on Melo to score 30 to win. The Lakers however have Kobe doing his usual and Gasol providing some points, other than that what a bunch of duds. They have some good players that can make some plays, but you can't just play well a few minutes a game and hope to win. Lakers are inconsistent and overrated.
A big key to their scoring punch is Kobe taking 50 shots and hoping Gasol and Bynum get the rebounds on his misses. Limit those rebounds and they have no answer.

Posted by: politicsrfun111 | May 26, 2009 1:06 PM | Report abuse

kalo: "I said before it started that the Nuggets had a good chance of knocking off L.A."

Yes you did. And I confess I thought it was the Cavs who had the fatal flaw, not the Lakers. The Nuggets -- well, I confess, I just couldn't imagine the Nuggets playing together for a whole series against a more experienced team. But they have.

Whoever said both LA and Cleveland would be really tired if they made it to the finals -- you get a gold star for prognostication, too.

Posted by: Samson151 | May 26, 2009 1:12 PM | Report abuse

"And I confess I thought it was the Cavs who had the fatal flaw, not the Lakers. "

Well, my crystal ball missed a bit on that one. I expected the Magic to give the Cavs a fight, but I didn't expect them to basically outplay Cleveland 3 straight games.

A Nuggets/Orlando Finals is David Stern's worst nightmare. (Actually, his second worst. Another Detroit/San Antonio matchup would be #1.)

Posted by: kalo_rama | May 26, 2009 1:22 PM | Report abuse


I've noticed so many people say that the Lakers are tired. Well, so are the other teams competing for the NBA Finals. the Magic had 2 series that went 7 games (Sixers, Celtics) and so far the Magic are playing the Cavs well. The problem with the Lakers is their bench, and you could also point out guard play. Players like Odoam, Walton, etc are not stepping up and making plays. Kobe and at times Gasol have to shoulder the load for the rest of the teams poor play.

Bynum and Fisher are also playing poorly, neither has made a consistent contribution to this series. I think this series will go 7 games and the Lakers will pull it out because the Nuggets bench is a totally different team on the road. With that said, if the Lakers do happen to pull out a victory. Phil should consider putting Farmer on the starting rotation because he can speed up the pace, which the Lakers need to do more of.

Posted by: rcnasa | May 26, 2009 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of the Nuggets, this is a pretty interesting story on the Birdman from a couple years ago:

http://vault.sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1113383/index.htm?eref=sisf

Posted by: kalo_rama | May 26, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

"I just couldn't imagine the Nuggets playing together for a whole series against a more experienced team. But they have."

...so far.

Now it's a best of 3, with 2 games in LA. And a Phil Jackson - Kobe Bryant led team will not go down easy.

I admit, I would really enjoy watching Denver in the Finals. Watching Chauncey Billups reminds me of watching Zinedine Zidane (for all the soccer heads). Just an incredible grasp of the game, though rarely flashy, it's like watching an artist at work. He might be my favorite player to watch out of all 4 teams right now.

Posted by: psps23 | May 26, 2009 2:52 PM | Report abuse

Mike, would you know when the Summer League schedule might be coming out? Oh and while I'm on the subject, Gilbert said a while back that he would "definitely" play summer league. Do you know which way he is leaning? And is the Post sending you out to Vegas to cover it? Hope so, should be crazy even though Andray Blatche will not be making an appearance this year.

Posted by: emmet1 | May 26, 2009 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: kalo_rama | May 26, 2009 3:40 PM | Report abuse

Very fair, sharp evaluation of Rubio that Kalo_rama linked. I saw his last playoff game and it wasn't his finest. He pushed to make things happen, to be relevant against a superior team but he can't create much on his own and if your teammates are mediocre...Still, he has extraordinary skills in terms of his court vision. I rate the Spanish league as superior to NCAA ball and figure that a kid who has played productively in that league since he was 14 should find his place in the NBA. Will never score much though and his jump shot makes you cringe.

Posted by: mugsybol | May 26, 2009 5:31 PM | Report abuse

I'd love to see the nuggets win the series but something about kobe's comments about how they got their asses kicked makes me believe they will win unlike lebron's proclamation that with a cloned version of himself to play with his team would never lose, truly intelligent leadership by Kobe ,Lebron should take note

Posted by: bford1kb | May 26, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

All the basketball fans i know want the nuggets vs. magic simply because the cavs and lakers, just like kobe and lebron are the guys you love to hate in the league

Posted by: bford1kb | May 26, 2009 5:48 PM | Report abuse

flohertv said "A healthy big three, along with a group of ascending young talent, could put the Wiz back into the thick of things next year. I wouldn't be real quick to ship some of these young guys out until Flip's staff has a year to work with them."

I been saying that all along. A healthy wizards team can compete with any team in the east. This non-sense predicting a 7 or 8 seed next year comes from people being punks and just looking at the recent past without really knowing basketball. These same people said cleveland would win the east. Cleveland is in the same basket with Washington, Boston, Orlando. Throw them in a basket and pick one. All capable of winning the east.

I put the wizards up there because of the overall improvement of the team. The wizards will no longer be dominated by a Big 3. It will be a more complete team, 8 - 11 deep, legitimate.

Posted by: G-Man11 | May 26, 2009 11:57 AM

Somebody sanging' my song. Sang' on GM and G-Man11.

LarryInClintonMD.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | May 26, 2009 9:50 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: DC_MAN88 | May 26, 2009 10:05 PM | Report abuse

The Lakers stood up to the Rockets and took there spirit in game two, by consorting to Bad Boy Basketball, and Yao goes down on top of it. Who knows what would have happened if Houston could have taken the blow and Yao got not got hurt.

Buts thats all spilled milk, and yes they are very vulnerable.

However, I thought and predicted when KG was still playing that it would not be Boston that Cleveland would have to worry about, but Orlando and I said that Orlando would defeat them.

LarryInClintonMD.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | May 26, 2009 10:08 PM | Report abuse

Wild Les BouleS rumor:

http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/knicks/2009/05/source-says-marbury-could-land.html

Posted by: DC_MAN88 | May 26, 2009 10:05 PM

DC_Man88, Marbury must be a desperate man. He could add nothing to this Team. If Flip were to listen to Marbury and agree to bring him here because he first played for Flip in the League would be like The Ball Coach bringing his Q'backs that played for him in college to the Redskins. Did not work to well.

LarryInClintonMD.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | May 26, 2009 10:32 PM | Report abuse

Here is a rumor I saw today reading a New York paper Enjoy

Source says Marbury could land with Wizards
May 26, 2009
Stephon Marbury's up and down (and down some more) playoff run with the Boston Celtics probably won't result in a lucrative contract next season but there is one team that could have interest in the former Knicks guard.

Marbury, according to a source, was contacting Flip Saunders almost on a daily basis during the postseason and there is a chance that Marbury could be reunited with his first professional coach (okay, second after Bobby Cremins) next season.

Saunders is now the head coach of the Washington Wizards and would strongly considering adding Marbury to the roster if there is a vacancy. The biggest hurdle for Marbury is that Mike James and Javaris Crittenton are both under contract.

Read more: "Knicks Knation - NY Daily News" - http://www.nydailynews.com/blogs/knicks/2009/05/source-says-marbury-could-land.html#ixzz0Gfwk9oH6&A

Posted by: rnorris6 | May 26, 2009 11:56 PM | Report abuse

OFFENSE IS A THING OF BEAUTY.

DEFENSE WITHOUT IT IS LIKE BEING DRESSED UP IN A SUNDAY SUIT WITH YOUR REAREND SHOWING.

THE MAJIC HAS DEFENSE AND OFFENSE IN EQUAL PARTS.

THE CAVELIERS ARE LACKING IN DEFENSE, BUT THERE OFFENSE ALMOST WON IT.

I AM AN OFFENSIVE GUY FIRST, BUT I AIN'T NEVER LEAVING HOME WITHOUT MY DEFENSE.

RUN AND GUN LARRY IN CLINTON MD.

Posted by: LarryInClintonMD | May 27, 2009 12:01 AM | Report abuse

Just out of curiosity, what're the opinions on Marbury as a Wizard? Complete waste of time and space, possible asset, somewhere in between, or what?

As to the facts, he averaged 18 minutes in 24 games with Boston, 3.3 assists and 1.6 TOs, and a crummy 34% shooting percentage.

Posted by: Samson151 | May 27, 2009 7:15 AM | Report abuse

There's not a slot for the Wizards to even consider signing Marbury unless Ernie is able to pull off a couple of deals to clear some space. As it stands right now the Wiz don't even have a slot to sign their second round draft pick.

He could possibly fill the niche of a veteran bench scorer if he can get his game back. But, it's now been several seasons since he's played consistantly, so his regaining any degree of effectiveness isn't a sure thing.

Larry Brown will really Deep Six a guy if he doesn't buy into Larry's way of doing things, no matter how big of a star the guy is. Marbury made alot of trouble for himself in his career before Larry came to NY. That clash of two really hardheaded guys really cost the Knicks millions. How Thomas thought he could fit those two ego's in the same lockerroom is a mystery to me.

Marbury wasn't the first point guard that Larry's really locked horns with. And he's not the last, he's at it again in Charlotte right now.

From the Wizards point of view, Saunders is looking at a very young bench, if Grunfeld finds a taker for James's deal, and Dixon isn't brought back, the back court could be young and thin. Maybe Flip's thinking Marbury could be a cheap insurance policy.

If he's signed for a veteran min. type of deal that the Wiz could easily walk away from, it might be risk worth taking. First sign of trouble cut him loose. But even at that, my gut says it's a risk not worth taking.
GM

Posted by: flohrtv | May 27, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

In Boston, Marbury humbled himself. He is an asset if he has. He is an upgrade over Mike James. You can call him Gil-insurance. But, would he stunt the development of Critt?(Both are GaTech 1-and-doners) Would he settle for 3rd point guard off the bench?

Yes, Marybury's stats declined. Part, but not all, of that was due to inactivity and rust.

Posted by: G-Man11 | May 27, 2009 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Marbury's not coming here. Aside from the fact that he's a team killing, coach killing cancer, he'll be looking for a payday that the Wiz can't provide.

Posted by: kalo_rama | May 27, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

This is very good!
http://www.nowgoal.com/22.shtml

Posted by: suesue8709 | May 28, 2009 5:50 AM | Report abuse

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