Denver 90, LA Lakers 104
Coming off a back-to-back and three games in four nights, this was a potentially tricky match-up for us. The Nuggets had won seven of their last eight games since adding Billups to the line-up, including away wins against both New Orleans and San Antonio, so they were definitely experiencing a good run of form.
It didn’t matter tonight. The Lakers absolutely took it to them from the opening tip, for the first time in a while starting the game effectively on both ends of the floor. They shot the ball upwards of 60% in the early going and darted in and out of passing lanes, creating turnovers and easy transition baskets. The whole starting line-up, save Radmanovic who left in the third with a poked eye courtesy of Carmelo, had a good game. Fisher was a little frustrated by some calls on defense, but he played well in the minutes he split with Farmar. The other three starters all finished in double figures: Gasol with 12, Bynum with 13, Kobe with 29 points in 30 minutes on 12-of-18 shooting. He finally found the stroke tonight, nailing jumper after jumper and slashing down the lane for the dunk.
In the game’s only rough patch, we started the third quarter like garbage, seeing our 20 point halftime lead dwindle to 11. But the way we worked ourselves out of the funk was telling and quite promising: it was our defense that did the trick. We didn’t lock them down Detroit-style, camping out around the key and forcing shot clock violations. We hawked the ball and got in every passing lane, resulting in easy points in transition and fouls on Denver players. It’s been a while since I’ve been able to say that the Lakers used their defense to pump up a slumping offense, but that was the case in the third.
Individual performances were outstanding across the board. Bynum in particular showed his up-side, adding 13 rebounds, 5 assists, and 1 block to his 13 points. He looked slightly more settled too, and, most promisingly, he made a couple of good moves in the post that showed what we might come to expect in the future. Trevor Ariza kept the spark burning as well, with 3 steals and 4 rebounds to go with his 11 points. Lamar Odom once again led the second unit off the bench and also made it to double figures (13 points). But my vote for super sub of the game goes to Jordan Farmar, who literally did not stop moving all night. I’m convinced that even while on the bench he was running lines around players. He had 7 points and 4 assists, but his 3 steals and 1 block were the more notable aspects of his game tonight. He was always the first guy out on the break and, simultaneously, the first guy getting back on defense, on a couple of occasions altering shots and even swatting Denver big men who thought they had an easy bucket.
Only Sasha Vujacic had me pulling out my hair. I have to ask: will he please stop shooting every time he gets his hands on the ball? He fired up reckless threes with abandon tonight, and he only made one of them (1-for-7). I was scared he might get the ball in the backcourt and, on instinct, go for the 80 foot bomb. He’s a really good bench player with a role to play, but he sure knows how to get under your skin.
That minor gripe aside, this was a tremendous game and an improvement even over last night’s victory against the Suns. For much of the time, it looked like our varsity against their J.V. team. It was just too easy, like taking candy from Rasheed Wallace.
I don’t want to get too cocky, though, as we’ve had a pretty cushy schedule. We’ve only played 11 games, 6 of those at home, and tonight was the start of a 5-game home stand. We’ve played some decent opponents, but these are games we SHOULD be winning. Kudos to us for winning them, but I’m trying to keep it in perspective and hope we can continue the winning ways when we go on some of those grueling road trips that are surely coming.
And now I have to ask you to allow me a small detour. I try not to get political on here, but it occurred to me while watching this game that the Lakers behaved after that Finals loss to the Pistons in 2004 like the Republicans have after the defeat to Obama (and just about every other Democrat they ran against). They were a mess of back-biting, finger-pointing, it-wasn’t-me innocence, and it came from all sides. Phil called Kobe “uncoachable” in his book; Shaq pouted his way out of LA; and Kobe was widely perceived to have orchestrated the departure of both O’Neal and Jackson in the aftermath. Those anonymous campaign staffers apportioning blame to Sarah Palin with zeal – a strategy no less lame for its probable accuracy – had their counterparts in all the he-said-she-said going on between Buss, Kupchak, Phil, Kobe, and Shaq, and the team didn’t survive, at least not in the short term. Thank god we made it through, which I suppose bodes well for the Republicans eventually (sadly). We just had to excise a cancerous element (Shaq – you can make the appropriate analogy yourself) and make a fresh start without completely wiping the slate clean. Luckily for us, we only had to spend a couple years in exile. I sure hope the Republicans’ sojourn is closer to the Biblical 40 years.
So that’s all for tonight. Next up is Sacramento at Staples on Sunday. The Kings are currently 5-9 and hurting without their star and lead scorer Kevin Martin, who is out with a sprained left ankle. They’re 1-4 in their last 5 games, but that all goes out the window against the Lakers, for whom everyone seems to get up and give their best performance against the Western Conference champs. Still, if we play like we’re capable of doing, it should be a straightforward win for us. Or, should I say, another one.
Full game highlights: