The Lakers opened up their six game road trip in the Mile High city versus the Denver Nuggets on Friday night, starting their longest away run of the season. The Nuggets had just returned from Los Angeles the night before after routing the Clippers 112-91, and were looking to come out on top of both of L.A.’s squads within two nights.
The Lakers had just come out of a routing of their own on Tuesday, dominating the holders of the worst record in the league Charlotte Bobcats 106-73. While Los Angeles entered the game holding a horrible 2-7 road record this season, they were hoping to finally make a turn for the better in the first game of the 10 day Grammy road trip.
The Lakers opened up another game with Metta World Peace in the starting five, hoping to continue winning games with defensive control thanks to his efforts on the floor within the opening minutes of the game. Andrew Bynum came out on fire in the post, starting off the first half of the quarter with a solid nine points, including a terrific ally-oop fed by Kobe Bryant.
Ty Lawson came onto the court with something to prove as well, scoring six of the Nuggets first 10 points, shooting 3-4. The Lakers defensive rebounding continued to be a key role in their first quarters control, as they took a double digit lead early with the help of maintaining ball possession and playing good defense.
Al Harrington then came off the bench with a spark the Nuggets had been lacking in the first seven minutes, getting back to back driving layups to force Mike Brown to call his first full time out of the game. Kobe Bryant continued being double teamed defensively by the Nuggets, allowing him to excel with four quick assists, helping every player on the Lakers starting five get baskets in the first quarter.
It wasn’t enough to stop the force that the Nuggets had built up, as they went on a 9-0 run within the final three minutes of the quarter. The Lakers still ended the quarter up by a field goal, 23-21.
The Lakers started the second quarter with Kapono, Goudelock, Murphy and Barnes on the floor, leaving hot shooting Bynum on the floor to help them retake the lead. While they opened up with weak shooting, a Kapono jump shot got the ball moving for the bench, with Goudelock following up with back to back jumpers of his own.
The Nuggets then initiated full court pressure defense, forcing the Lakers bench to make smarter passes and take some quicker shots, helping Denver regain control on the game. The combination of Andre Miller and Al Harrington off the bench, shooting a combined 7-11 within the first 17 minutes of the game was enough to force Mike Brown to put the starters back on the floor half way through the second. Goudelock remained on the court for the Lakers when the other pieces of the bench took a seat, sparking interest with a lot of the fans wondering if this rookie could possibly fill the void that Derek Fishers age has created recently.
The Lakers poor shooting in the closing half of the quarter allowed the Nuggets to continue nipping at their heels, with Kobe not looking as threatening as he did against the Bobcats in their last game. Andrew Bynum then reminded everyone why he was voted as an All Star this season, with a spectacular defensive block on one end of the court followed by another ally-oop from Kobe Bryant to take a three point lead.
Los Angeles began giving up too many fouls as they headed into half time, committing three shooting fouls within the final two minutes of the quarter. Kobe’s frustration continued to get the best of him, as he shot a mere 0-6 in the second. Mike Brown looked like he had a lot to discuss in the locker room, but the Lakers still finished the half on top, 44-41.
The Lakers entered the second half hoping to continue dominating in rebounding and feeding the ball to Bynum, who had a total of 15 points in the first half. The Nuggets were looking for more from Gallinari and Nene in the post, as the defensive game from Bynum and Gasol combined completely shut them out in any attempts they had previously made.
The Nuggets came out to play earlier than the Lakers expected, with them taking their first lead of the game off of a Gallinari three pointer. A loss of focus forced Derek Fisher to give away back to back turnovers, which the Nuggets were thankfully unable to capitalize on. Kobe Bryant hit his first basket out of nine attempts, allowing the Lakers to regain a one point lead which they had been missing for most of the quarter. Pau Gasol followed right back with another two points, answered with another by Derek Fisher. Kobe then looked like he had his game back, adding a few more assists to his stats and having no problem driving into the paint to draw fouls and send himself to the line.
Denver continued fighting back, with Nene finally making a positive appearance to the game hitting consecutive baskets before heading back to the bench. Increased tension being fed by disagreements with foul calls and missing field goals led to some pushing and shoving in the paint on both sides of the court, proving that the final quarter of the game will definitely be a make or break for the Lakers.
Goudelock continued to shine off of the bench, hitting an automatic deep three as soon as he stepped on the court for Derek Fisher. The speed of play the youngster brings down the court each time he has the ball fueled a flame for the Lakers in the closing minutes, making Kobe Bryant speed his own game up, as he ended the quarter scoring ten for himself. Although a three pointer from Pau Gasol at the buzzer was called off by the refs, the Lakers still entered the final quarter of the game on top of the Nuggets, 72-68.
With Pau Gasol sporting a double double and Kobe Bryant finally looking like he found his rhythm, Los Angeles were looking to continue building off of the positives they discovered in the third and finish the Nuggets off in the Mile High City. The Nuggets were still not finding the leadership they wanted from Gallinari and Nene, and their first basket from Rudy Fernandez proved that he would be Denver’s go to guy in the fourth.
Andrew Bynum’s efforts in the fourth were going to be a key part in weather the Lakers left Denver with a win or not. Both teams continued to do the work to send themselves to the free throw line, but were unable to drain both of the baskets to regain a strong lead. Kobe Bryant began playing the way he is capable of, at one point creating space against Gallinari to drain a three, igniting resounding boo’s from around the stadium as the Lakers pushed themselves to an eight point lead.
The Nuggets woke up once again, with Harrington getting himself all the way up to 24 points. It looked like the Nuggets may be taking this game over. An outside three by Metta World Peace brought flashbacks to Game 7 of the 2010 Finals against the Celtics, and gave the Lakers a minor lead to keep their hopes alive. Another clutch three by Derek Fisher gave the Lakers a four point lead with just over a minute remaining in the game.
A few scrambles for the ball in the closing minute continued making the game more and more tense, and the ball ended up in Denver’s hands. They capitalized on a great play call as Nene finished a strong dunk, putting the ball back in L.A.’s hands with only 28 seconds to go. A questionable defensive play by Nene on Bynum while he went up to the basket helped put the ball back in Denver’s hands with 11 seconds on the clock. After a missed three and Barnes being sent to the line, he hit both free throws to seal the game 93-89.
The Lakers continue their road trip Saturday night in Utah, being hosted by the 12-9 Jazz.