Lakers-Nuggets Game 1 thoughts

First off lets start with the obvious.  The Lakers won tonight’s game on the greatness of Kobe Bryant who led his team to victory scoring 15 of his 40 points in the final 6:48 of the fourth quarter which included six free throws in the final 30 seconds to seal the victory.  Bryant brought his “A” game tonight and the Lakers needed every bit of it to match the top notch performance of Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony who poured in 39 points on 14 of 20 shooting that included 4-of-5 from three point land.  For Anthony this performance was a complete departure from his previous performances against the Lakers this season in which he averaged just 14 points per game.  A second glaring statistic that contributed to a Laker victory was that Denver shot just 65.7 percent as a team from the free throw line that included 12 misses.  Three of those misses were by Nuggets point guard Chauncey Billups who entered tonight’s game shooting 96 percent from the charity stripe.

A win is a win but the Lakers escaped with the victory tonight.  They were able to survive another poor start and another sub par game from Andrew Bynum.  Although he had six rebounds and two blocked shots in just 16 minutes of play, he was never able to get in a rhythm offensively due to the fact that he was in foul trouble for much of the game, finishing with five.  Gasol was limited to just 13 points but had a strong performance on the boards for the second game in a row pulling down 14 rebounds.  I still believe that Los Angeles must get these two going on the offensive end in order to achieve overall success in this series.  Nuggets center Nene had a solid game in the paint against these two scoring 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting but the way that he did it has to be the biggest eye raiser as the big Brazilian was able to get numerous dunks and uncontested drives to the basket. 

Both teams have solid benches and after just one game its obvious their play is going to be a big difference maker in this series.  The fact that the Lakers bench outscored the Nuggets bench 30-16 while receiving offensive contributions from six players as opposed to only two Nuggets players registering in the scoring column was a huge factor in tonight’s game.

In game two I look for the Lakers to try and get more point production from their two big men and as well as make adjustments to slow down Carmelo Anthony by having Ariza play a more physical style down low while using his quickness to try and physically make Anthony work harder to get quality looks at the basket.  I also look for them to even put Kobe Bryant on him to try and slow him down if Ariza is unsuccessful.   Phil Jackson and his coaching staff should be able to make the necessary adjustments that they weren’t able to make with only one day to prepare.  The Lakers should come out ready to play from the opening tip off which they weren’t able to do tonight. 

I look for Denver to try and get more production out of their bench and see if they can get JR Smith going.  Expect Nene to have plenty of touches in the opening minutes to see if he can get Bynum into early foul trouble and force the Lakers to go to their bench early.   I think they will also try and exploit the strength advantage that Carmelo Anthony has on both Trevor Ariza and Kobe Bryant. 

Although it’s only one game, Thursday night is a must win game for the Nuggets if they expect this to be a series.  The Lakers have won eleven straight playoff games against Denver.  They can not afford to go down 2-0 to start this series and give the Lakers all the confidence heading back to the mile high city.   After all momentum is a funny thing, it can take you a long time to get it but you can lose it in an instant.

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