The first two playoff games of the 2012 season are in the books, and the Los Angeles Lakers hold a comfortable 2-0 lead over the sixth seeded Denver Nuggets.
Game 2 was a more competitive game than the first, as the Nuggets seemed to have a better understanding of how to play the Lakers. Their strength is pushing the ball up the court to get a lay-up or shot within the first five seconds of their possession.
They demonstrated that by getting rebounds and turnovers, and followed by making baskets and racing the ball up court immediately after gaining control. This allowed them to get their first tie during a game after the opening tip-off.
Game 1 was less of a challenge for the Lakers after they grabbed a 13-point lead following the first quarter thanks to Steve Blake’s three three-pointers. They eventually built up the lead to 21 and never looked back. The key stat for the Lakers’ dominance in Game 1 was their amazingly balanced scoring. Led by Kobe Bryant’s 31 points, the Lakers had six players, including all five starters, score in double-digits, and Steve Blake had nine. They also had two players with double-doubles, while one of those was a triple-double (Bynum).
While Jordan Hill provided the Lakers with a spark off the bench, grabbing 10 points and 10 rebounds, it was Andrew Bynum who had the Lakers first playoff triple-double since Magic Johnson did it in the 1991 NBA Finals. Bynum had 10 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 blocked shots. His 10 blocks set a new Lakers franchise record for most blocks in a playoff game, which was previously held by Hall of Fame center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and tied an NBA record set by Utah’s Mark Eaton in 1985, and matched by Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon in 1990.
As the tone in Game 1 was set by Los Angeles, their 15 blocks on 90 shot attempts, which meant blocking one out of every six shots, showed that the Nuggets had no answer for a slowed down game. It was a different story in Game 2 where the Nuggets forced a fast-paced tempo, allowing them to keep the game in arms length. However the size and strength of the Lakers still seemed to be too much for Denver. Kobe recorded his 83rd career 30-plus point game with 38, second to only Michael Jordan with 109, on 15-29 shooting. Bynum had 27 and nine rebounds, Pau Gasol had 13, and Ramon Sessions had 14.
Again, balanced scoring helps propel the Lakers past the Nuggets.
Despite losing 103-88 in the first game, and 104-100 in the second, the Nuggets battled tough and proved to themselves that if they can play their style of basketball, that fast up-and-down game, they can play with the Lakers. If anything, this four-point loss gave them confidence heading home to Denver for Games 3 & 4 on Friday then Sunday.
The Lakers need to be ready for the Nuggets to come out swinging. They will try and rally behind the enthusiasm of the crowd to strike first from the opening tip. This means that if the Lakers do not come prepared to play defense from the very beginning, the adrenaline pumped Nuggets could open up a huge lead and never look back.
The Lakers must limit the amount of open shots for Denver in the first quarter, and make sure to slow the tempo down as much as possible to keep control of the game. If the Nuggets get loose, they are extremely difficult to stop, especially when they are at home with the crowd behind them. Look for the Lakers to utilize Bynum and Gasol early in Game 3, while mixing plays for Kobe to settle the game.
The story with the Lakers all year in big games, and most of all road games, is showing up to play. They have lost big games and a lot of road games because they simply do not show up mentally to play. They must be 110 percent mentally checked in from every game here on out. If they come to play from the opening tip-off, pound the ball inside, slow the tempo down, and limit Denver’s fast break points, there is no reason for the Lakers not to sweep. The Nuggets are too small and inexperienced to challenge Los Angeles.