After the Lakers 126-114 thrashing by the Nuggets in Denver on Wednesday night, Steve Nash was asked why his team came out with so little energy to start the game.
“Sometimes,” the point guard said sardonically, “when you don’t have anything nice to say, you don’t say anything at all.”
With the Lakers stunning inability to match the Nuggets’ intensity, there should have been a whole lot of silence coming from the loser’s locker room. The Nuggets put on an effort clinic that ended Los Angeles’ winning streak at five games and dropped the Lakers under .500 again at 14-15. The statistics tell the ugly story:
Denver grabbed 20 offensive rebounds and scored 47 second-chance points, led by Corey Brewer’s 27 points off the bench and Kenneth Faried’s 21 points and 15 rebounds. Ty Lawson also added 17 points and 14 assists for the Nuggets, who improved to 16-14 less than 24 hours after losing by 12 to the Clippers — in Los Angeles.
Brewer played the entire fourth quarter, taking four 3-point shots and hitting three of them. His play off the bench helped offset Kobe Bryant’s game-high 40 points. It was the 116th time in his career that the 34-year old Bryant scored 40 or more points in a game, and he extended his NBA record for most consecutive 30-plus point games for a player his age to 10.
Something else that offset Bryant’s heroics was Laker center Dwight Howard’s ejection for a flagrant foul Type 2 for smashing Faried in the face with 5:02 remaining in the third quarter. The play sent Faried down hard onto the court and could send Howard to a suspension for Friday night’s game against Portland at Staples Center. Howard, for his part, feels he doesn’t deserve a suspension — especially since this was his first career ejection for a flagrant 2.
When asked about the possibility of being punished he told reporters, “I was surprised it was a flagrant 2. My intention was never to hurt Faried. I like the young fellow and my intention was just to foul. I come down the lane, somebody is going to foul me hard, put me on the free throw line and make me shoot free throws. It was the same kind of thing.
“You shouldn’t get penalized for fouling somebody hard. I had no intention of hurting anybody — it was just a hard foul. It’s the way the game of basketball is played. I’ve been fouled harder and nobody has gotten kicked out of the game for it. Don’t put me on a different scale because I’m a strong guy.
“A foul is a foul.”
And a message is a message. And the determined Howard may have been sending one to his teammates with his knockdown of Faried.
Too many times this season, the Lakers energy has been lacking from the start of games. It usually ends up with them playing poor defense and turning the ball over, getting dominated in the hustle stats, and the opposing team eventually scoring easy baskets. Howard has been relentless about verbally pointing out the continued deficiencies, and listening to the way he phrased his remarks could lead one to believe that he’d tired of the talk and felt it was time to walk the walk.
“I don’t think our effort as a team was there tonight,” he said. “They just played harder than us. We need to forget about (this loss). It’s over. We need to come back the next game with a better effort.”
Nash — who came through with a 15-point, 8-assist performance — was on the same page as Howard when it came to the Lakers’ maddening lack of effort.
“Our job is to come out ready to play and fight to win,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t have your legs, but you have to fight and find other ways to win games.
“We have to do better than that.”
And a lot of that has to come from the coaching staff.
Maybe Mike D’Antoni hasn’t realized it — or accepted it — but this team is not going to win a title fast-breaking for 48 minutes each game.
He continues to have the team push the ball — even in the mile-high Denver air — and the consequence have been lackluster defensive play because they’re too tired. And the habit of falling behind early and having to try to comeback in almost every contest also saps a team’s strength, physically and mentally.
The players are now all there and almost completely healthy. It’s time for D’Antoni to figure out what works best for his team, implement it and stick with it.
Like Nash keeps saying, this team should be in desperation mode.