I guess I learned to be careful what I ask for because I got it tonight.
The Nuggets did play much improved defense compared to last season against the Lakers. Carmelo did show more attentiveness on defense. The Nuggets battled the team that after two games has looked as dominant as any team in the league tooth and nail for 44 minutes. Then Kobe took over.
It has now been about an hour since I finished watching the game and as I reflect on it, I really am pretty satisfied with the effort and mindset they took into the game, but that would have been a nice win.
I think it is pretty clear that the Nuggets key problem is going to be defensive rebounding. So far in two of the three games they have been hurt by offensive boards. Against Utah a lot of it seemed to be due to some bad luck bounces. In LA against the Clippers they were able to solve the problem by having the guards really crash the boards. Tonight, Bynum and Gasol were just too long for the guards to challenge them. Denver shot eight percent better than the Lakers (45.9% to 37.9%), but the Lakers took 13 more shots due to their 15 offensive boards and the Nuggets four extra turnovers.
The good news is the Nuggets opponents have had more opportunities for offensive rebounds because the Nuggets are forcing more missed shots. The Nuggets held the Lakers to 37.9% shooting and are only allowing their opponents to make 40.7% of their shots (compared to 45.7% last season) and yes I do realize the season is still very young.
Offensively, the Nuggets had some success running, but when you either cannot grab the defensive rebound or when you do, your guards are in the paint trying to help corral the carom it will slow down your break.
In the half court, the Lakers did a great job of playing a soft man with ball pressure, which allowed them to limit the Nuggets pick and roll game. The pick and roll was not effective because the Lakers almost always had a third defender ready to jump the ball handler. From time to time the Nuggets did a very good job of moving without the ball and getting some easy looks in the paint, but that did not happen often enough. The proof that they were able to get good shots when they were cutting into the lane is the Nuggets were credited with 30 assists on 34 made baskets.
Melo went scoreless in the first half, but I though he really played very well on offense. He had four assists at half time and ended up with six for the game. However, the stats do not do his passing justice. He had several other passes that led to either free throws or an open shot that was missed. The Lakers did double Melo quite a bit on the wing and instead of forcing things or making the easy pass out to someone who was only in a position to swing it he was aggressive and looked to pass to someone in position to score. As far as looking to score himself, he had several shots rim in and out and in the second half Melo seemed to get frustrated and a little confused as far as what to do on offense when he was looking to score. On at least two occasions it looked like he had a lane to drive to the rim and was hesitant. Melo did make three quasi important threes late in the game, but by that time it was too little too late.
Defensively Melo was tuned in to what his responsibilities were and he even voluntarily checked Kobe several times in the second half, which I was glad to see. I was even more glad to see that on those few possessions Melo did fine.
The real star of the game for Denver was Anthony Carter, but part of that just proves how the Lakers defensive system was working. They would much rather the Nuggets success be based on Antony Carter making shots than Melo, AI or J.R. Smith. Getting back to Carter, the box score says he had a plus/minus of -14, but he played as good of defense on Kobe as anyone I have seen and offensively he kept the Nuggets in the game in the first half shooting 6-7 and making two threes. Carter worked hard on his shot before last season and that work paid off. It looks like he might have improved his shot yet again.
The Nuggets looked like the game last night did take a bit of a toll as they looked a little tuckered out in the fourth quarter, not only physically, but mentally too. It certainly seemed like they were not playing with the same intensity as they did the night before. In the end there was just too much Kobe, but the game was not a total loss as there were still some positive signs to take away.
Other Observations from Game 3:
- For some reasons the Lakers get away with a lot of body contact on drives, especially Derek Fisher. It seemed like Vladimir Radmanovic was allowed to really body up Melo too. And one other thing before I quite complaining, the Lakers sure did get away with having a player floating in the lane quote a bit without ever getting a defensive three second call.
- I realize that Linas Kleiza will eventually play his way out of this horrendous slump he is in, but I sure wish George Karl would give his minutes to Renaldo Balkman right now.
- I thought the crowd was unbelievably pathetic. Watching from home with about eight minutes left in the game I started thinking to myself that the crowd should be on their feet for the remainder of the game. They were practically nonexistent. Nuggets crowds used to be great, but over the years they have become nothing more than jumbotron puppets. If only we could get as much effort out of them to get up and cheer for a defensive stop as we do when they all mindlessly shake their keys for some ridiculous corporate promotion at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
- I realize everyone likes to see big volleyball like blocked shots, but if you are high enough that you can hit the ball that hard, you are high enough to stick your hand up and just tap it so either you or a teammate can collect it. (In case you were wondering, I wrote that for Chris Andersen, not myself. I have never blocked a shot after it left the shooter’s hands in my life.)
- Melo looks weird with his new close cropped hair, but I like it.
- Everyone knows how Phil Jackson likes to let his team play through stretches of the game where they seem to be out of sync. Tonight he called a quick timeout with 7:08 remaining in the game after Denver tied it at 86. From that point on it was all Lakers.
- Kenyon Martin left the game with a tweaked hamstring in his left leg. He did return temporarily, but left again after a couple of minutes. After the game he did not seem too concerned, but I would think it is a 50/50 proposition as to whether or not he plays on Wednesday against the Warriors. Discretion is always the better part of valor when hamstrings are involved.
- J.R. Smith has yet to have a big time shooting night as he went 1-6 on three pointers tonight. He did take a couple of bad threes, one on a step back trying to answer a Kobe three late in the fourth and another was from about 28 feet where he should have taken a quick dribble to get a few feet closer.
- I like how George Karl adjusted how he managed Nene’s minutes. He took him out with about four minutes left in the first quarter to keep him from drawing his second foul. Nene was able to play the rest of the game without worrying about fouling out and he ended up with only two fouls.
- The sad thing is Nene only grabbed five boards in 37 minutes.
Once again I will direct you over to visit Kurt at Forum Blue and Gold for some high quality Laker centric blogging for his take on the game.