A few days ago, The CDP described 4 in-game deficiencies that YOUR...Los Angeles Lakers flashed during Game 2 in this 7 game series against the Denver Nuggets. To paraphrase, they included:
Battle of the Boards: The Lakers should never be outrebounded by this
team... Denver has a lot of athletes and their team was hitting
the boards hard, but the Lakers have got to do a better job of utilizing their
length and boxing out on rebounds.
Defend the 3: Although Ty Lawson was shredding our interior at will,
Denver’s offense only operated in spurts because they weren’t hitting the
three. As KOBEshigawa pointed out at halftime, if they were hitting their jump
shots, this would have been a much tougher team to defend and the Lakers might
have been in trouble. The Lakers rotated to the perimeter much more quickly in
the second half, but will need to be more consistent here on the road.
Mental Focus: Their stars played like stars, but they also whined like them. Kobe/Andrew both failed to get back in time on several plays because they were complaining about non-calls.
If you watched Game 3 from the Rocky Mountains last night, you'd think that the Lakers collectively read The CDP's post last week and decided to see if they could still win while doing all of those things on the road. To absolutely no one's surprise, it came back to bite the Lakers on the backside, harder and faster than Marv Albert could fathom.
Battle of the Boards: If this was a battle, then Denver was the white man with the firesticks and the Lakers had arrowheads and tomahawks. Though the rebounding disparity was only +10 for the Nuggets (and +6 on the offensive boards), the Nuggets bludgeoned the Lakers inside, getting every one of those +10 boards in key situations that could have swung the momentum LA's way. I can't sum it up any better than JaVale McGee's stat line for the night: 16 points, 15 boards (6 offensive), 4 blocks in 28 minutes on 8 for 12 shooting. Just brutal.
Defend the 3: Just as I discussed on my preview for Game 3 on Silver Screen and Roll, the Lakers were lucky to escape LA with two victories, considering the Nuggets were putrid shooting from distance, with a 24% clip from 3. Not the case last night - the Nuggets shot 36% from behind the arc, capitalizing on the open looks the Lakers had given them in the 2 games prior. Still, 36% isn't a blistering percentage, but when Denver is outrebounding the Lakers and hoisting up a staggering 15 more shots (unreal!), it's going to catch up eventually.
Mental Focus: The Lakers just didn't have it. Defensively, the Lakers couldn't control the perimeter nor the Nuggets scoring inside. As much potential as JaVale, Faried, Lawson and Gallo have, there's no way Denver should be outscoring Pau Gasol, Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum in the paint by 20 points. I hate to point to JaVale McGee's stat line again, mostly because I feel like I'm picking on a 12 year-old, but my God: 16/15 with 4 blocks on 75% shooting. Combined with Faried's 12/15, the Lakers simply got toasted inside.
Offensively, the Lakers really lacked rhythm and surprisingly for a Mike Brown-coached team, hustle. The offense was quite stagnant and slower than usual, with possessions ticking by without much ball movement or interior play. Timofey Mozgov started the game in lieu of the much less effective Kosta Koufous, and with such a big body in front of him, Bynum was ripe for the double team (woo!). However, when the cover came, the Lakers offense seemed to just stand still - the cutters weren't there and everyone just stood around and watched Andrew get mugged by two defenders in powder blue.
Perhaps most importantly, the Lakers were careless with the ball, committing 15 turnovers, resulting in 20 Nuggets points. In a prime example of how lackluster LA's effort was last night, they only forced 6 turnovers from a young Denver squad on defense. Those two stats next to each other, with (again) JaVale McGee's ridiculous stat line, is the story for this game. Essentially, everything that the Lakers had been getting away with for the last two games came back to haunt them. The energy in the Pepsi Center was fantastic last night, and it visibly affected the starters.
Going forward to Game 4 on Sunday, I fully expect the Lakers to make a lot of adjustments. This team coasts on the road, and especially after playing well at home. The intensity last night just wasn't there, as the Show got outhustled by a young, exuberant Nuggets team. LA has to rotate faster and crisper on screens, and get a better cover on Denver's 3-point barrage, which was still a very average 36%. They also have to control the boards. The rebounding disparity has grown each game, with the All-NBA First Team Ugly trio of Faried/Mozgov/McGee destroying Bynum/Pau/Jordan Hill. Most importantly, the Lakers have to play with some sense of urgency. They halfway mailed in their effort last night, which will quite simply lead to a Game 4 defeat if done again.
I'm not particularly worried at this point, seeing as Denver is too well coached and plays too hard to get swept. I knew they were going to come out last night and punch the Lakers in the jaw (evidenced by an almost immedate 30 point lead in the 2nd!) and the Lakers weren't able to respond. While Denver has to be nearly perfect to win a game, the Lakers merely have to be very good. All LA has to do is dial up the energy and a slightly more pressure-packed Game 4 should be a close W. If Your a Lakers fan, you have to be emboldened by the fact that the team lost Game 3 because they just didn't play hard. Fact.
Sunday isn't a "must-win", especially in light of an almost-certain next-round opponent in OKC and the corresponding 3 games left on Metta World Peace's suspension, but it'd be nice not to have to travel back to Denver for Game 6.
Let's roll boys.