3-2 series lead up for grabs tonight in L.A.


Renaldo Balkman may not be playing much in these Western Conference Finals, but look no further than his body-art to find out what Denver needs to do to win tonight: "Hustle Harder".


via extras.mnginteractive.com

The Nuggets out-hustled the Lakers in Game 4 and it showed up in the box score with the Nuggets out-rebounding the Lake Show 58-40 (20-9 on offensive rebounds), out-assisting the Lakers 23-19, and committing less turnovers (10 to 6) than the Lakers.

Of course, execution will play a major role tonight as well. The Nuggets have been doing a great job getting out to quick starts so far in three of the first four games and have only trailed after the first one time.

Fast Starts (the scores after the first quarter):

Game 1: 31-23 Denver leads after the first
Game 2: 31-23 L.A.
Game 3: 28-26 Denver
Game 4: 22-19 Denver

It's been important for Denver to get out to fast starts to build confidence, although fast starts don't always equal wins. Actually the team that has won the 4th Quarter has won each game.

4th Quarter winner = game winner:

Game 1: 31-27 L.A. (L.A. wins game)
Game 2: 26-22 Denver (Denver wins)
Game 3: 32-18 L.A. (L.A. wins)
Game 4: 43-35 Denver (Denver wins)


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I think most Nuggets fans would like to see Denver put this game to bed early, but that's going to be very difficult on the road. Execution will be key.

The Nuggets have won 11 of the series' 16 quarters with the Lakers winning 4 and one being a tie. This shows me that Denver has been following their game plan to near perfection. But Los Angeles to their credit has the best closer in the game and out of the 4 quarters the Lake Show has won … two of them have been fourth quarters and game deciders (may have just made that word up.)

There is a lot of talk about the Lakers being the team that now has their backs to the wall or the team that has been woken up or the team that will finally care and show up tonight. I don't buy it and it's disrespectful to the Nuggets. And if it is true then why would you root for a team that "doesn't bother to show up" to playoff games? Win or lose I know the Nuggets will play their "tales" off tonight and I can support that.

The Nuggets know the importance of the game tonight:

  • Win … they'll have a chance to close out at home Friday night.
  • Lose … Denver must not only win game six, but face the crazy anything can happen Game 7 back in Los Angeles.

I expect Denver to play with controlled desperation and to play like their backs are against the wall. Tonight two teams will play that should both have the mentality that the winner tonight will win this series.

Lakers fans better just hope that their mighty team decides to show up tonight because we know the Nuggets will.


Pregame Notes:

  • Melo averaged 18 ppg in games 3 & 4 at home on 24.1% shooting. I'll be interested to see if he can get back to where he was scoring at a much higher rate … in L.A. … where he averaged 36.5 ppg in games 1 & 2.
  • J.R. Smith after scoring 21 points in games 1, 2, and 3 combined … busted out for 24 points in game 4 after he started attacking the rim. His intangibles have been great as he's averaging 4 assists and 3.5 rebounds in the series.
  • The Wild Card Linas Kleiza is 6-12 from three-point land in this series (50%) … a strong performance tonight could go a long way.

Melo update:

After suffering from the stomach flu in Game 4 and tweaking an ankle … Melo says he "feel(s) good" for tonight's Game 5. Click here to read more about Melo from the Denver Post.