Game 4 Lakers Vs Nuggets Preview: More of the same, please ... (7:30pm MT)

We need another big game from JaVale McGee for the Nuggets to win Game 4.
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After dropping two consecutive games in lackluster fashion to the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center, for Game 3 the Denver Nuggets remembered that they're participating in the playoffs and played with that must needed sense of urgency. What further adjustments are in order if the Nuggets are to tie this series at two games apiece?

My biggest gripe with the Nuggets' approach to Games 1 and 2 was how Nuggets head coach George Karl spread out the minutes somewhat equitably among 10 players, as if they were playing a regular season game and had to make sure everyone had ample rest for tomorrow. Not that I need to remind Karl and the Nuggets this, but when it comes to the playoffs there is no tomorrow.

This is why the greats - from Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant - play more minutes in the post-season than they do in the regular season. The playoffs is when you ride your stars, especially young ones.

Karl implemented this for Game 3, reducing his rotation to nine players and playing youngsters Ty Lawson, Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee more minutes each than they had seen in the first two games of this opening series thus far. Foul trouble aside, those three players - plus Arron Afflalo (who curiously played just 25 minutes last night while the wise, old Andre Miller played 31.5) and Danilo Gallinari - should be racking up the majority of on-floor minutes for our Nuggets to carry out this series. Especially at home, where the energy in the Pepsi Center was rocking and the players feed off it for an extra boost as the game wears on.

Entering Game 4 on Sunday night, the three "keys" to Denver winning this series remain the same: play fast, play the youngsters and bait Kobe Bryant into bad shots ... because he'll take them. The Nuggets accomplished all three on Friday night in Game 3, so here's hoping for more of the same in Game 4, please!

Another thing the Nuggets have to do in Game 4 is bring back McGee's mother, Pamela. A former basketball standout herself (Pamela won back-to-back NCAA championships at USC, an Olympic Gold Medal and played in the WNBA for a few seasons), Pamela was screaming and coaching from behind the basket on the Nuggets' end of the floor and you could tell being there that it gave JaVale extra motivation to kick the Lakers' bigs collective asses.

Could Pamela McGee be the big man coach the Nuggets desperately need? (More on that after the season is over.)

After the Game 3 Nuggets victory, Karl said: ''It was a fun win for me. I can't remember a win as much as I enjoyed this thing.'' And being in the Pepsi Center audience, I have to agree with the Nuggets' head coach. Last year, Karl's Nuggets gave the fans a lone home victory when the Nuggets beat the Thunder in Game 4. But we all knew the series was over and the win felt more like a moral victory than anything else. This year, the Nuggets have the chance to win this series in six (which most Denver fans are predicting) or at least push it to seven games (my prediction). And it sure feels damn good to be in this position!

For the first time in this series, on Friday night the Nuggets played their way. Their style. And they didn't let the Lakers dictate the pace or the energy of the game. They washed the Lakers over with an incredible 28-2 run and the Lakers never recovered.

Entering Game 4, look for the Lakers to slow down the pace immediately by engaging center Andrew Bynum (who was a no-factor in the first half of Game 3) in the post and challenging whomever the Nuggets start at center, be it Timofey Mozgov or Kosta Koufos. Karl may have to counter with bringing in McGee - who by all accounts has renewed confidence and vigor right now - earlier in the first quarter as, regrettably, both Moz and KK seem to be a little out of sorts when it comes to the intensity of the NBA post-season. Should McGee enter the game earlier than is typical for him and/or see increased minutes, he has to stay out of foul trouble.

And McGee's front court mate, the tireless Faried, just needs to keep it going. The Lakers have no counter for Faried. (On a side note, is there any doubt in any NBA followers' minds that Faried is hands down the second best rookie in the NBA behind Kyrie Irving? If there was any doubt, Faried has erased it already in this series. Drafted 22nd overall, Faried may prove to be one of the great draft steals in a generation.)

If there's room for improvement from the Nuggets for Game 4 - always a plus after a win, by the way - it has to be more patient shooting. It's remarkable that the Nuggets ran the Lakers off the floor in Game 3 and yet they collectively shot less than 40% from the field (Corey Brewer's 1-7 shooting night certainly didn't help). Especially considering how many of the Nuggets' makes were transition baskets. If Karl can find a way to get Afflalo and Gallinari more comfortable shooting-wise early, the Nuggets can throw another element at the Lakers not seen in Game 3.

I hate stating the obvious, but Game 4 is a must-win for only one of these two teams. And you know what team I'm referring to. The Lakers can weather a 2-2 series tie and still win in 6 or 7. Should the Nuggets go down 3-1, we're looking at another 4-1 first round loss ... something we've become way too accustomed to here in Denver these past nine years. The great Kobe Bryant won't drop the ball (pardon the pun) if given the opportunity to close out a playoff series at home.

During the Nuggets nine-year playoff run (a streak that I don't think gets the credit it deserves, by the way) the team has found itself tied 2-2 in a seven-game series just once, when the Nuggets and Lakers were tied up four games into the 2009 conference finals. This is predominantly why so many fans and pundits alike have been frustrated with Karl. I don't think the fans and pundits have expected the Nuggets to win most of the series they've participated in, but we'd at least like the team to put up a fight better than the 4-1 and 4-0 series losses we've experienced.

By winning Sunday night, Karl can counter his critics (at least temporarily) and put the Nuggets in position to get out of the first round for just the second time during his tenure in Denver. That's the very definition of a must win.

Go Nuggets!!

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REMINDER: STIFFS NIGHT OUT - GAME 5 is happening on Tuesday, May 8th at Jake's Food & Spirits. Join Andrew, Nate, Jeff, Colin and your fellow Stiffs as we watch the game on Jake's 10 HDTVs while Jake's serves up 2-for-1 drink specials all night long. Be sure to save the date for next Tuesday!
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