Uninspired Lakers hand reins to Nuggets
Moments after the Nuggets’ easy 113-96 Game 6 victory over the Lakers in Denver on Thursday night, Denver point guard Ty Lawson ended his national TV interview with six words no Lakers fan wanted to hear.
“Game 7. Los Angeles. Let’s go,” he said, a large smile crossing his mouth.
So it was onto the chartered plane for the hour-and-a-half flight back to Staples Center in L.A. — and a chance to make history.
A win Saturday night against the staggering Lakers would make Denver just the 22nd team to win a seventh game on the opponent’s home court. The hosts have won 86 times in that situation.
However, the way the Nuggets have embarrassed the Lakers in the first two close-out games after LA’s now-vanished 3-1 series lead shows the momentum has become the sole property of George Karl and Co. Also, the Lakers have some recent experience in blowing 3-1 series leads, having done so against the Phoenix Suns in 2006.
Lawson, the game’s leading scorer with 32 points (also adding six assists and five rebounds), was confident about his team’s ability to pull off an upset.
“We already gave away two games in this series,” he said. “We gave one away here and another one in LA. We can win if we stick to the game plan.”
At least Denver has a plan.
In the last two games, the Lakers — with the exception of Kobe Bryant, who shook off the flu Thursday and scored 31 after getting 43 on Tuesday — haven’t had a clue. That’s especially true of their two big men — Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, who combined for 14 points on 5-of-21 shooting. Their bench was outplayed and outscored 40-27.
Defensively, Gasol had a plus-minus of minus-29, worst in the game, while Bynum wasn’t much more effective with a minus-22.
Bynum, the man who breathed new life into the Nuggets with his “close-out games are easy” bulletin-board material last Monday, said Denver has totally outworked the Lakers in both losses.
“We haven’t been playing with their kind of intensity,” said Bynum, who did grab 16 rebounds and block four shots despite his offensive play. “They’re doing it and we’re not (matching) it.
“It was tough looking at all those baskets these guys were making. They were playing hard, walking around with kind of a swagger. For us (to be successful), we have to want to stop guys, (and) we need to figure it all out before Game 7.”
And, of course, he couldn’t let an opportunity to take a swipe at coach Mike Brown, saying he didn’t understand why he wasn’t in the game during the final quarter.
“I didn’t play in the fourth,” Bynum said. “That kinda sucks.”
For the record, the Lakers were trailing by 22 points at the end of three quarters — with Bynum playing 30 of a possible 36 minutes. And TV cameras once again caught him staring into space, looking unhappy, while Brown was talking during a timeout.
Karl, who said he had an early-morning revelation Wednesday that the Lakers weren’t much better than his team, thinks his guys once again went out and proved him right.
“There’s no way I thought what happened tonight (with the blowout) was going to happen,” Karl said. “I thought the guys carried on with intensity and aggressiveness and energy.
“I thought the two things that were vastly (better for us) tonight were our passing and our three-ball. We had good playmaking, and guys were making good basketball plays with Ty and Andre (Miller) running (the offense).
“Our defense was also good throughout the game, until the end, when the game was out of hand. Then we (let up) a little bit and weren’t very good. But this was a big game … and Saturday will be even bigger.”
Brown felt his team’s defense was full of deficiencies, especially in challenging one of basketball’s most fundamental plays.
“We were bad with our pick-and-roll coverage,” said Brown, who had to be disgusted watching his team give up 50 points in the paint. “They got what they wanted. (We) did the coverage correctly maybe 8 percent of the time, if that.”
And that obviously isn’t anywhere near enough if the Lakers want to avoid blowing a 3-1 lead for the second time in six seasons.
“We’ve got to do a better job,” Brown said slowly, as if to emphasize his point. “It’s going to have to matter to us. We’re going to have to work harder and want to get … the … job … done.
“If we get the same type of effort and execution of our game plan, it’s going to be a long night Saturday night.”
And a much longer summer should they lose a third consecutive close-out game.