After an impressive comeback to defeat the Denver Nuggets on the last day of 2011 the Lakers saw themselves up against the same team on the first day of 2012.
While Saturday’s game was played at Staples Center in Los Angeles, tonight’s matchup took place in Denver. The Lakers had several things to work on after struggling yesterday, but were able to take comfort in the fact that Bynum would be back on the floor after his impressive debut on Saturday.
Still, after the Nuggets lost a heartbreaking game on Saturday they were looking for some quick revenge on Sunday evening at the Pepsi Center.
The first quarter on Sunday looked very familiar to the game on Saturday. While that may be obvious considering it involved the same two teams, the style of play was very similar to begin the game. Denver was able to get out and run on Los Angeles, who struggled on both ends of the floor. The Lakers defense wasn’t remarkably strong to begin the game, as Denver was able to penetrate and get easy shots at the basket.
For L.A., the offense was a major struggle. Even with Bynum back in the game the team had trouble gaining any sort of momentum. One of the main reasons for the lack of momentum was the constant turnovers.
One surprising statistic was that the Nuggets were able to keep Kobe Bryant scoreless in the first quarter for the second consecutive game. Bryant entered the game just four points away from reaching the 28,000 point plateau, but Denver didn’t give in during the first 12 minutes on the floor.
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Bynum did have a strong start for the Lakers, scoring their first few points. But once again it was the outside shooting that killed Los Angeles. The team once again went the entire quarter without connecting on a single three-point shot, which allowed Denver to take a 26-21 lead at the end of the first.
The Nuggets picked up the pace in the second quarter and were able to extend their lead. However, the Lakers managed to stay close largely due to the play of Metta World Peace. After going scoreless on Saturday, World Peace played a strong first half in Denver on Sunday. One of the main reasons for his increased production was the fact that he went into the paint on offense. Many of his shots in Saturday’s win were taken from the perimeter and unsuccessful. On Sunday he made a clear effort to get the ball in the post and use his strength and size to his advantage.
A main reason the Lakers struggled in the first half was the play of Kobe Bryant. After going scoreless in the first quarter Bryant didn’t improve too much in the second. He made just one of his 10 attempts from the field, finishing the half with three points.
Gasol led the Lakers in the first half with eight points on 2-5 shooting, but the rest of the team struggled, especially from three-point range. The team shot just 1-10 from beyond the arc in the first 24 minutes, which put them at 2-30 over the past two games.
Denver finished the first half on a run that was fueled by Chris “Birdman” Anderson and Al Harrington. With Bynum on the bench in foul trouble Anderson and Harrington were able to take charge of the paint and extend their lead to 47-36.
After only scoring three points in the first half Bryant finally was able to reach the 28,000 point plateau. Bryant’s free throw early in the third made him the youngest player to reach the mark in NBA history. However, there was no time to celebrate the milestone as the Lakers still found themselves trailing to the Nuggets.
Denver was led by Danilo Gallinari, who was looking for redemption after missing a last-second layup that could have tied the game on Saturday and possibly forced overtime. Gallinari scored 15 points through three quarters to lead the Nuggets. Denver had the lead for much of the quarter before the Lakers finally were able to establish some momentum.
The reason for the Lakers resurgence was their ability to finally connect on a few outside shots. Steve Blake and Jason Kapono both were able to get three-point baskets to fall in the quarter, the second of which put the Lakers on top with just several seconds remaning in the third. Unfortunately for the Lakers that lead was short-lived as a last-second shot from Chris Anderson put Denver on top 72-71 heading into the fourth.
Los Angeles was able to finally find some momentum in the third quarter. Their defense was much improved and they limited the outside shooting chances of Denver. It was the two big men, Bynum and Gasol, who led the Lakers comeback.
As the game entered the fourth it was shaping up to be another exciting finish. After a nail-biting ending on Saturday the teams went back and forth in the final quarter again on Sunday. Once again the catalyst for the Lakers on offense was Andrew Bynum. He looked well-polished offensively the majority of the time L.A. had the ball. While there were a few plays where he wasn’t as aggressive or assertive as he could have been, he was still the biggest offensive threat on the floor for the Lakers.
While Bynum was a big part of the Lakers offense they also got a surprising contribution from Steve Blake. The point guard troubles in L.A. have been well documented, but Blake made a strong offensive impact on the game as well.
While Blake and Bynum made strong impacts on offense, Bryant continued to struggle for the Lakers. However, that wasn’t going to deter him from shooting. Unfortunately he wasn’t able to find his groove for most of the evening, which gave the Nuggets fastbreak opportunities that they were able to capitalize on.
Still, the player who made the biggest offensive impact in the fourth quarter was Gasol. He was able to make several key buckets to help the Lakers regain the lead after falling behind. There was also a key play where he dove for a loose ball and forced a jump ball with Gallinari.
But while the Lakers had plenty of bright spots in the fourth quarter there was one glaring black mark. Much like opening day against the Bulls, Kobe Bryant cost the Lakers several times down the stretch. Multiple missed shots, most of which were ill-advised, as well as a terrible turnover, allowed the Nuggets to seal the deal and avenge their loss from yesterday. In the end Bryant shot 6-28 from the field, scoring just 16 points.
While Denver was the team that folded under pressure at the end of the fourth on Saturday, the Lakers returned the favor Sunday night. In the end the Nuggets were able to finish off the Lakers 99-90.
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