Lakers win games one and two. Nuggets win game three. Lakers win game four. Nuggets win game five and game six. And so the toughest first round series in the 2012 playoffs reaches its its thrilling, epic conclusion: game seven, in Los Angeles, highlighted by the return of Metta World Peace.
Don your armor, Nuggets and Nuggets fans. This is going to be a battle, the likes of which this franchise has never seen.
After winning not one but two elimination games in thrilling fashion, the Nuggets return to the Staples Center to face down the Lakers in a game seven that looks to define the future of both franchises in both the short and long term. Can the young, inexperienced Nuggets take down the old, veteran Lakers in Los Angeles in a game that could be described as nothing less than a potential changing of the guard in the Western Conference? Are the Nuggets at long last finally turning the corner from an easy first round out to a real threat in the playoffs? Will the Lakers still be regarded as a playoff threat with an aging Kobe Bryant and a barely competent coach Mike Brown? This game seven looks to answer a lot of questions going forward.
We know what to expect from the Lakers by now. Clearly, the Lakers are overmatched physically by the spring in the Nuggets' step. Kobe Bryant now joins the likes of human garbage Andrew Bynum and quite probably insane Metta World Peace as a "Big Three" of cheap shots, all concentrated in one exceedingly hateable team. They know that aside from themselves, and perhaps Pau Gasol and Ramon Sessions, their backups have no chance against the depth of the Nuggets reserves. As they've shown, the Lakers have no levels to which they will not sink in the pursuit of a championship, including attempts to play outside the rules of the game. It'd be admirable if they weren't such disgusting acts with clear intent to harm their opponents, regardless of their comments to the press professing their innocence and that these were acts in the heat of the moment.
So, how do the Nuggets win this game seven?
It's easy to think that the Nuggets should try and play just as dirty as the Lakers. One might suggest a solid Bynum-esque elbow to Kobe's nose, or perhaps a World Peace "unintentional" one to the back of Gasol's head. I know I've wished in the past that these players would be on the receiving end of the same types of dirty, dangerous plays so the Lakers and their fans might experience the angst and genuine concern for the health of their players that the teams and fanbases of other teams have endured. But that'd be sinking to the Lakers' level.
In order to win, the Nuggets must rise above it.
The Nuggets know now that they can goad an ailing Kobe into terrible shots all night. Sure, he'll hit a few, but not enough to carry the team against the deep Nuggets by himself. Bynum is clearly frustrated now that the Nuggets know that they can match his physicality in the paint with a combination of Timofey "Six Fouls" Mozgov and JaVale McGee. They might be able to get him to miss a critical piece of advice - I'll wait while you stifle your laughter - from coach Mike Brown when he pouts away from the huddle on the bench. Kenneth Faried appears to have figured out Pau Gasol, whose latest contributions to the Lakers appear to largely be relegated to puddles of sweat on the hardwood.
The Nuggets must understand that their success is predicated on forcing the tired Lakers into bad shots and bad plays, frustrating them into the same sort of cheap shots that take their concentration away from the task at hand - winning the game. They can do that by continuing to play solid, hard-nosed defense, hitting some jumpers, and forcing a fast pace on the break. As the Nuggets are almost sure to be on the receiving end of another cheap foul or two, they must not let themselves succumb to a desire for vengeance with a dirty play of their own, instead using the Lakers' to fuel their own desire to win. Karl would be wise to re-use Bynum's arrogant comments about close out games being easy, Kobe's brushing off of Danilo Gallinari's defense, and the perpetually unstable World Peace's play to drive home the point, that, frankly - the Nuggets are simply the better team in this series. The Lakers have begun to realize it.
Now, for one last game, so must the Nuggets.