HoopsHabit – “How The Golden State Warriors Have Won Without David Lee”

Pulling a typical George Karl In The Playoffs move, the Denver Nuggets fell to the No. 6 Golden State Warriors behind Stephen Curry’s monster third quarter performances. Here’s my HoopsHabit article on how the Warriors were able to win without David Lee

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2012-13 NBA Preseason Rankings

With the new NBA season starting in just six days, here’s a look at my preseason rankings for the 2012-13 season. Here’s the article covering the lower half of the NBA and here’s the article on the league’s top 15 teams.

2012 NBA Draft Recap

In a particularly deep draft class, a few teams came out as clear winners with multiple picks that are set to have an immediate impact, while others simply settled for the best selections available. Here are the winners, losers and question marks of the 2012 NBA Draft:

Winners: New Orleans Hornets

No surprises here, but the New Orleans Hornets came out better than everybody as far as their draft picks are concerned. By virtue of the (flawed) lottery system, the Hornets stole the number one pick from the more deserving Charlotte Bobcats and didn’t let it go to waste, taking the clear best choice with Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis. However, the Hornets also put their 10th pick to good use, picking up Duke guard Austin Rivers, son of Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers. Then New Orleans used their 46th pick to grab the small forward Darius Miller, a fellow UK teammate of Davis. With Eric Gordon and Austin Rivers in the backcourt and Anthony Davis in the middle, the Hornets have a very talented, very young core group to build around in the future. The Hornets won’t find immediate success as they still need talent at the forward positions, but this draft couldn’t have gone any better for a team that floundered in its first year without Chris Paul.

Anthony Davis was taken first in the 2012 NBA Draft by the New Orleans Hornets.

Winners: Houston Rockets

The Houston Rockets also had a nice draft, capitalizing on multiple selections early on. What they intend to do with those picks remains unclear, as the Rockets’ plan to lure Orlando into sending Dwight Howard to Houston for numerous draft picks has been mentioned many times, but for now, they have a young nucleus to work with. The Rockets took advantage of UCONN’s Jeremy Lamb still being on the board and grabbed him with the 12th pick before selecting Iowa State’s Royce White at number 16. Two picks later, they added Kentucky power forward Terrence Jones to the mix. While the Kyle Lowry/Goran Dragic situation plays itself out, at least Houston was able to add young talent to their roster for the time being. Keep an eye on this team during the offseason however; they could be looking to make some major moves.

Here’s a look at the young talent that the Houston Rockets brought in this year.

Winners: Portland Trail Blazers

The Trail Blazers didn’t have the sexiest draft and they will most likely continue to struggle next season, but they did make good use of their picks. Portland has been seriously lacking at the guard positions ever since Brandon Roy was forced to retire and Raymond Felton has been extremely disappointing for Rip City. So with their number six pick, the Blazers selected Damian Lillard, a dynamic point guard from Weber State with one major attribute in his ability to score in droves. The Blazers also tried to get LaMarcus Aldridge and Nicolas Batum some help in the front court by picking up Meyers Leonard with the 11th pick. Leonard has a lot of work to do to be a contributing big man in the NBA, but he also has the potential to help out in the paint.

The face of Portland’s new point guard: Damian Lillard

Winners: Golden State Warriors

Once again, this is a team that may not be a contender next year, but they’re certainly starting to turn things around with a young nucleus. After trading Monta Ellis for an injury-prone big man in Andrew Bogut, many feared the worst. But the Warriors had a solid draft, picking up Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, Draymond Green and Ognjen Kuzmic. While Kuzmic might not have much of an impact, the other three picks are very good ones. Harrison Barnes will have a chance to make an immediate impact while Ezeli will strengthen a frontcourt that depends too much on the shaky health of Bogut. Green isn’t the most enticing pick, but I think he will contribute if he can work his way into the rotation with David Lee, Klay Thompson and a hopefully (healthy) Stephen Curry.

Harrison Barnes joins Festus Ezeli and Draymond Green in Golden State.

Winners: Milwaukee Bucks

With mediocre position in the draft, the Bucks were able to get a quality big man and shot-blocker in John Henson, as well as a skilled shooter in Doron Lamb. Although these two acquisitions might not turn many heads this season, Milwaukee got a little bit of what it needed after trading away their injury-prone center. The backcourt is set with Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings, now the Bucks needed to add a paint presence and more shooters on the perimeter, which is exactly what they did.

The Bucks needed a shot-blocking big man and they certainly got one in John Henson.

Winners: Oklahoma City Thunder

They only had one pick in the draft, but the Oklahoma City Thunder sure made it count by picking up Perry Jones III out of Baylor. Although there are some concerns about Jones’ knee, the rewards outweighed the risks by the time the 28th pick of the draft rolled around. If PJ3 can stay healthy, he can be an extremely helpful presence in the paint off the bench for the Thunder, especially if they can’t hold on to Serge Ibaka. At the worst, he’ll be a bust, but the Thunder did just make it to the Finals, so if anyone can afford to take the chance, it’s OKC.

Perry Jones III may have been the steal of the draft, falling to the Oklahoma City Thunder with the 28th pick.

Losers: Brooklyn Nets

This was already decided months ago, but the decision to give Portland draft picks in exchange for Gerald Wallace makes this an easy choice for one of the bigger losers in the 2012 NBA Draft. Wallace was a dynamic player…when he was in his prime. With that decision, the Nets settled for Ilkan Karaman with the 57th pick, which was their only selection of the night. Not exactly the kind of way to convince your star point guard to stay instead of bolting for Dallas. That could change if the Nets are able to find some way to entice Dwight Howard to come to Brooklyn, but if not, there’s little reason for Deron Williams to stay.

Was he really worth not getting any new talent in the 2012 NBA Draft?

Losers: Phoenix Suns

It’s ironic that I’m labeling the Suns as losers when they actually made an intelligent selection based on what was left by the time their 13th pick rolled around, but choosing a great passing point guard in Kendall Marshall only reaffirms the fears that are in every fan’s mind: Steve Nash might really be leaving. Suns management denied that free agency had anything to do with it, but why else would they ignore the other gaping problems in their roster if they weren’t at least a little concerned that Nash might be gone next year? Yes, the Suns are lacking a big in the backcourt after Nash (Sebastian Telfair is the Suns’ second point guard at this point) and Phoenix is already up to their ears with small forwards, but is choosing a backup point guard really the best draft strategy with the 13th pick if you really think Nash is going to stay? I didn’t think so. Everyone was big on this pick, but all I see right now is an insurance policy.

The Suns swear the Kendall Marshall pick wasn’t influenced by free agency coming up, but why else would they take a passing point guard unless they were worried Steve Nash might leave?

Losers: Los Angeles Lakers

I loved watching Robert Sacre play at Gonzaga, but it seemed that with each passing year he never seemed to get better. Los Angeles didn’t have great position in this year’s draft which was part of the problem, but I don’t see Sacre having much of an impact and I certainly don’t see him providing help in the paint for a team that may be trading Pau Gasol away very soon. The Lakers would have been better off with a role player like the undrafted double-double machine Drew Gordon, who can score and grab rebounds. They did get their hands on Darius Johnson-Odom from Marquette by virtue of Dallas’ pick, but I just don’t see him helping a very lackluster LA bench. The Lakers have problems to sort out and even though a few offseason moves could quickly right the ship, the 2012 draft didn’t accomplish very much.

Robert Sacre is heading to LA, but he won’t be able to replace Pau Gasol is he’s traded away.

Losers: Charlotte Bobcats

Yes, they got Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, a very coveted piece at the number two spot in the draft. But after hearing rumors about what some teams were offering Charlotte for the chance to pick up Gilchrist, it’s a little disappointing the Bobcats weren’t able to work out something better. Not that Gilchrist won’t be able to help in some way in his first season with the abysmal Bobcats, but at this point Charlotte needs a miracle to turn their organization around. They already got screwed over in the draft lottery when they couldn’t land the number one pick, so I don’t think Gilchrist (and the strikingly similar selection in Vanderbilt’s talented Jeff Taylor) will be enough to turn this ship around.

The Bobcats got Kidd-Gilchrist, but then spent their second pick on the similar Jeff Taylor.

Question Marks: Boston Celtics

There were already question marks surrounding the Celtics before the draft got underway. Will Kevin Garnett be back? Is Boston still planning on trading Rajon Rondo any time soon? Will Brandon Bass stay? And would Ray Allen really leave for the Miami Heat? Now they’ve added more questions to the mix with their selections of Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, two talented big men who also have slight downsides. For Melo, there are rightful concerns about his attitude and overall basketball IQ, making him a bit of a project for Doc Rivers. As for Sullinger, the risk of his back problems could prevent him from seeing a lot of playing time. But that’s okay, the last injury-prone big man out of Ohio State turned out to be just fine and had a long and successful career, right?

The Celtics picked up two quality big men, but both are major projects for Boston to work on.

Question Mark: Dallas Mavericks

After a lot of trades and flip flopping of picks, the Mavericks ended up with Jared Cunningham (an attacking shooting guard from Oregon State), Bernard James (a 27-year-old center from Florida State) and Jae Crowder (a very undersized but tough “power forward” from Marquette). While I understand the need to put young pieces around Dirk with young in the hopes of rebuilding with Deron Williams, I’m not sold on Dallas’ selections. They’re not terrible selections and they could prove me wrong very easily, but for the time being, I need to see where the Mavericks’ offseason takes them.

I still need to see how these draft picks play in to acquiring Williams before I pass judgment.

Question Mark: Indiana Pacers

The Pacers had a tremendous season but fell short to the Heat because of two main reasons: 1) Roy Hibbert crawled into a deep dark hole and couldn’t be bothered despite Indiana’s enormous advantage in the paint (especially with Chris Bosh out) and 2) they didn’t have a consistent sixth man to help ease the pressure when their starters needed a breather. Indiana can’t do anything about Hibbert except hope he rises to the occasion next time, but they had power over the second part of that equation. Unfortunately, I don’t see Miles Plumlee as the answer to the bench problem. On a team with Tyler Hansbrough and Lou Amundson, why use your only pick in the draft for another unathletic rebounder who can’t score? In their defense though, they did get their hands on Orlando Johnson, a dynamic scorer from UC Santa Barbara who could be the exact lift off the bench the Pacers need. But for the moment, that hope remains uncertain.

You’re looking at the face of a coach who doesn’t have much to be excited about after the draft.

Question Mark: Minnesota Timberwolves

With Ricky Rubio and Kevin Love to build around, the Timberwolves are one of the youngest and most promising squads of the future. Unfortunately, the 2012 draft did little to make that statement even stronger. I’ve always liked Robbie Hummel and I do think he can add points off the bench because he’s an elite shooter and a smart player. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’ll be enough to raise the Timberwolves to the next level. Hummel has pretty much reached his peak (or will soon enough) and the Wolves really could have benefitted from a better spot than the 58th pick of the draft.

The Wolves have a promising future, but needed to do more in the 2012 draft.

Question Mark: Denver Nuggets

The Nuggets are usually very good about their draft picks (Kenneth Faried is going to be a beast next year), but this year raised more than a few doubts. Nuggets fans are usually pretty accepting and trusting of their management, but I have to question the drafting of so many foreign players who haven’t proven they can play at an NBA level. Denver took Evan Fournier of France and Izzet Turkyilmaz of Turkey, who both have many areas they need to improve. However, the Nuggets also took Quincy Miller from Baylor, who could be quite the steal if he stays healthy. Nuggets fans trust their management and it usually pays off, but I need to see more before I can say it was another successful draft for Denver.

I don’t see any Kenneth Farieds in the Denver’s 2012 draft selections.

Question Mark: Cleveland Cavaliers

Sure, they added some length with Tyler Zeller and moved up in the draft to go along with their fourth pick. But I’m still struggling with the selection of Dion Waiters as the number four pick of the 2012 draft. Whatever Cleveland saw at the NBA Combine must really have impressed them, because Waiters’ stock rose incredibly fast after being projected in the middle of the first round just a few weeks ago. Zeller adds more size and depth to a Cavs team in need of both, but if Zeller can’t produce and hold his own at the next level and if Waiters doesn’t pan out to be a complementary guard for Kyrie Irving, Cleveland might regret this draft.

I can’t help but think the Cleveland Cavaliers could’ve done better with their picks in the draft.

In closing, here is the complete list of every pick of the 2012 NBA Draft:

  1. Anthony Davis – New Orleans Hornets
  2. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist – Charlotte Bobcats
  3. Bradley Beal – Washington Wizards
  4. Dion Waiters – Cleveland Cavaliers
  5. Thomas Robinson – Sacramento Kings
  6. Damian Lillard – Portland Trail Blazers
  7. Harrison Barnes – Golden State Warriors
  8. Terrence Ross – Toronto Raptors
  9. Andre Drummond – Detroit Pistons
  10. Austin Rivers – New Orleans Hornets
  11. Meyers Leonard – Portland Trail Blazers
  12. Jeremy Lamb – Houston Rockets
  13. Kendall Marshall – Phoenix Suns
  14. John Henson – Milwaukee Bucks
  15. Maurice Harkless – Philadelphia 76ers
  16. Royce White – Houston Rockets
  17. Tyler Zeller – Dallas Mavericks (traded to Cleveland Cavaliers)
  18. Terrence Jones – Houston Rockets
  19. Andrew Nicholson – Orlando Magic
  20. Evan Fournier – Denver Nuggets
  21. Jared Sullinger – Boston Celtics
  22. Fab Melo – Boston Celtics
  23. John Jenkins – Atlanta Hawks
  24. Jared Cunningham – Cleveland Cavaliers (traded to Dallas Mavericks)
  25. Tony Wroten Jr. – Memphis Grizzlies
  26. Miles Plumlee – Indiana Pacers
  27. Arnett Moultrie – Miami Heat (traded to Philadelphia 76ers)
  28. Perry Jones III – Oklahoma City Thunder
  29. Marquis Teague – Chicago Bulls
  30. Festus Ezeli – Golden State Warriors
  31. Jeff Taylor – Charlotte Bobcats
  32. Tomas Satoransky – Washington Wizards
  33. Bernard James – Cleveland Cavaliers (traded to Dallas Mavericks)
  34. Jae Crowder – Cleveland Cavaliers (traded to Dallas Mavericks)
  35. Draymond Green – Golden State Warriors
  36. Orlando Johnson – Sacramento Kings (traded to Indiana Pacers)
  37. Quincy Acy – Toronto Raptors
  38. Quincy Miller – Denver Nuggets
  39. Khris Middleton – Detroit Pistons
  40. Will Barton – Portland Trail Blazers
  41. Tyshawn Taylor – Portland Trail Blazers (traded to Brooklyn Nets)
  42. Doron Lamb – Milwaukee Bucks
  43. Mike Scott – Atlanta Hawks
  44. Kim English – Detroit Pistons
  45. Justin Hamilton – Philadelphia 76ers (traded to Miami Heat)
  46. Darius Miller – New Orleans Hornets
  47. Kevin Murphy – Utah Jazz
  48. Kosta Papanikolaou – New York Knicks
  49. Kyle O’Quinn – Orlando Magic
  50. Izzet Turkyilmaz – Denver Nuggets
  51. Kris Joseph – Boston Celtics
  52. Ognjen Kuzmic – Golden State Warriors
  53. Furkan Aldemir – Los Angeles Clippers
  54. Tornike Shengelia – Philadelphia 76ers (traded to Brooklyn Nets)
  55. Darius Johnson-Odom – Dallas Mavericks (traded to Los Angeles Lakers)
  56. Tomislav Zubcic – Toronto Raptors
  57. Ilkan Karaman – Brooklyn Nets
  58. Robbie Hummel – Minnesota Timberwolves
  59. Marcus Denmon – San Antonio Spurs
  60. Robert Sacre – Los Angeles Lakers

Lakers Win Game 7, Advance

Some credit goes to George Karl and the resilient Denver Nuggets for pushing their series with the Los Angeles Lakers to a seventh game after trailing 3-1, but more credit goes to Kobe Bryant and the rest of his supporting cast after outlasting the Nuggets in Game 7 with a 96-87 victory. Pau Gasol had a breakout performance with 23 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and four blocks, Andrew Bynum responded as well with 16 points, 18 rebounds and six blocks, and even Steve Blake had a monster game with 19 points after knocking down five 3-pointers, but it was Kobe Bryant that moved the Lakers into the second round.

How, you ask? He completely deferred to his teammates. After a two-day stretch of speculation and talk about how pathetic Kobe’s supporting cast had become, Bryant allowed his teammates to prove everyone wrong by passing the ball. So even though his 17-point, 8-assist performance doesn’t look impressive on paper, it was his continued commitment to giving up the ball that allowed his teammates to excel. Yes, Kobe-haters, I understand your reluctance to praise a guy for simply passing the ball to talented teammates. But with the way this series was going, it had turned into Denver vs. Kobe, and Kobe wasn’t going to win that battle. So he deserves credit for getting in his teammates’ ear and then allowing them to display their heart and commitment to winning a championship. That being said, Ron Artest’s return (I’m still not referring to him as “Metta World Peace) made a big difference on both ends of the floor. Without Artest, I’m not convinced the Lakers win Game 7. Artest made the invaluable contribution of shutting Danilo Gallinari down, who finished with only three points on 1-of-9 shooting. He also guarded Andre Miller, who had a similarly frustrating offensive night with three points on 1-of-10 shooting. But Artest’s impact didn’t stop there, as he knocked down four 3-pointers and ended up with 15 points in his first game back.

Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Steve Blake and Ron Artest all got the chance to shine thanks to Kobe Bryant being a team player in Game 7.

For Denver, it was yet another disappointing first round loss. Al Harrington had a breakout game with 24 points off the bench, while Ty Lawson also put up 24 in addition to six assists and five rebounds. Arron Afflalo pitched in 15 points, but other than that, Denver’s offense struggled despite balanced distribution. Gallinari and Miller were taken out of the game by Artest. Kenneth Faried had just six points to go with his 10 rebounds. McGee finished with six points as well, but grabbed 14 boards. The Lakers outplayed the Nuggets in every way necessary to get the series win in Game 7: they cut down on turnovers, they scored inside the paint and they had 14 blocks and 10 steals compared to Denver’s nine rejections and five steals. But the biggest factor was 3-point shooting. Los Angeles hit 11 3-pointers and shot just under 46 percent from downtown while Denver made seven and hit less than 27 percent of their 3-point attempts. Gasol and Bynum’s resurgent performances definitely hurt, but Blake and Artest knocking down shots from the outside gave them little chance to pull off the upset. However, the Nuggets have a very bright future with, especially if they have room to resign JaVale McGee, who had a breakout series despite falling short in Game 7. They have young and talented players like Ty Lawson and Kenneth Faried and experience veterans that give them depth and defense. Look for Denver to be a tough playoff team next year if they can bring everybody back.

Looking ahead, Denver probably matched up better with the Thunder because of their depth and clever defensive strategies. The Lakers’ struggles against the Nuggets provided a blueprint for how to beat LA and you can be sure OKC made note of it. If Gasol and Bynum disappear in the second round like they did in the first, the Thunder’s overall talent will completely overwhelm the Lakers, especially considering that OKC has home-court advantage and a real reason to come out strong against LA after Artest gave James Harden a concussion just a few weeks ago. Unless Kobe, Bynum and Gasol all have a stellar series, the Thunder could run away with this one.

Ty Lawson and the young Denver Nuggets played a valiant series and have a promising future despite the disappointing loss.

Nuggets Obliterate Lakers In Game 6

Ty Lawson and the Denver Nuggets wasted no time in showing the Lakers they meant business in Game 6, which quickly turned into a complete rout of an ill Kobe Bryant and the complacent Los Angeles Lakers. After starting the game on a 13-0 run, the Nuggets never looked back, taking care of business at home with a 113-96 victory and forcing a decisive Game 7 back in LA on Saturday.

Lawson led the Nuggets with 32 points, six assists and five rebounds, shooting 5-of-6 from downtown. Kenneth Faried had 15 points and 12 rebounds, Corey Brewer had 18 points off the bench, Danilo Gallinari finished with 12 points and seven rebounds and Andre Miller backed up his terrific Game 5 performance with a 12-point effort in Game 6. And although Arron Afflalo only had six points and JaVale McGee only had two, Timofey Mozgov not only continued his excellent defense on Andrew Bynum, but he even pitched in eight points as well. It was as close to a perfect effort as Denver can conjure up, but that’s the way it looked at the end of Game 5 too. For the Lakers, the only player really worth mentioning was Kobe Bryant, who scored 31 points while playing with a stomach virus (Quick side note: Do NOT compare this game to Michael Jordan’s Flu Game. This was against the Denver Nuggets in the first round of the playoffs and his team lost by about 20. MJ’s legendary performance was in the NBA Finals against Stockton and Malone and his team won thanks to that incredible performance. The two aren’t even remotely close). Ramon Sessions was LA’s second leading scorer with 14 points. Andrew Bynum had another underwhelming night with 11 points and 16 rebounds while Pau Gasol disappeared completely with just three points and three rebounds on 1-of-10 shooting.

Ty Lawson started out hot and put the Lakers away early. If the Nuggets have another fast start in LA, the Lakers could be in trouble.

At the start of the playoffs, I predicted Denver would give Los Angeles all they could handle, but I picked the Lakers to win the series in six games. I said the Lakers’ size would overwhelm the Nuggets’ bigs and that stopping Kobe, Bynum and Gasol over the course of a seven game series would be too much for the balanced Nuggets. It seems as though I (and everyone else in the NBA analyst department) underestimated just how effective Denver’s depth and frontcourt defense could be; despite dropping the first two games, the Nuggets have roared back in this series and now carry all the momentum and confidence into Game 7. The Lakers will benefit from having a rocking Staples Center trying to rouse them out of their apparent apathy (everyone except Kobe, that is). They will also be getting Ron Artest back after missing the last seven games (for his ludicrous elbow on Sixth Man of the Year James Harden). But after the effort we’ve seen from this Los Angeles squad in the past few games and because Artest will likely be rusty, it’s hard to pick against the Denver Nuggets.

Kobe is the only guy in purple and yellow who looks like he wants it. Bynum has allowed himself to be taken out of the series and instead of reasserting himself with a dominant performance, he’s completely faded out of the picture. Credit Mozgov, Faried and McGee for their aggressive and physical defense on him, but Bynum was the best active center in the league coming into the playoffs, and his effort and performance since dropping a triple double in Game 1 has been absolutely disappointing. But as bad as Bynum has been, Pau Gasol has been completely appalling. Game 6 will be the one that truly reveals how absent Gasol has been, but the truth is, he hasn’t had an impact on a single game in this series. Gasol is the Lakers’ third most important player and without him scoring, the Nuggets can focus all their attention on shutting Bynum down. Gasol has phased himself out, missing easy shots and being pushed around by Denver’s motivated post players. Unless Gasol and Bynum completely turn things around in Game 7, the Lakers will become just the ninth team in NBA history to lose a series after leading 3-1. Now I’m not fully predicting Denver will win Game 7 on the road against the uber-competitive Kobe Bryant. Kobe has time to rest up and prepare for an elimination game, and you know he’ll be doing everything he can to motivate his teammates, which will make them dangerous in front of their home crowd. No doubt, the Nuggets still have their work cut out for them. But as lethal as Kobe can be, this series may be out of his control if his teammates fail to show up again. And do you know who the last team was to lose a series after leading 3-1? The Los Angeles Lakers.

Kobe Bryant has done all he can do in this series, but his teammates don’t seem to share his motivation.

Denver Survives Late Rally, Forces Game 6

Kobe Bryant knocked down five 3-pointers in the second half and dropped 43 points, but it still wasn’t enough to overcome the balanced attack of the Denver Nuggets. A collective effort from a number of unsung heroes helped the Nuggets stave off a late rally from Kobe and the Lakers to give them a 102-99 victory on the road and force a Game 6 in Denver on Thursday. With the series now shifting back to Denver and the Lakers only up 3-2, the Nuggets are on the verge of making this series very interesting.

Last night’s win was probably Denver’s best in the series so far, despite the fact that Kobe nearly took it over at the end. The Nuggets completely controlled the game until Kobe started to get hot and knocked down four 3-pointers in the game’s final minutes. But even with the Staples Center going ballistic, Denver’s veterans and developing talents alike kept their composure and did what they needed to to send the series back to their home court. Andre Miller was absolutely phenomenal for Denver, leading them with 24 points and eight assists, including a few clutch baskets and free throws that kept the Nuggets on top down the stretch. JaVale McGee had another breakout performance and completely outplayed Andrew Bynum, finishing with 21 points and 14 rebounds. McGee and Kenneth Faried, who had 10 points and nine rebounds, helped limit Bynum and took care of the boards for a Denver team that was expected to be at a huge disadvantage in the paint. Arron Afflalo finally had a decent offensive outing, finishing with 19 points and five rebounds while Danilo Gallinari, who had an off shooting night, still pitched in 14 points of his own. But perhaps one of the most underrated performances of the night came from Timofey Mozgov. Although Mozgov failed to score a single point and registered only one block, his defense on Andrew Bynum was paramount. Even though none of his efforts showed up on the stat sheet, Mozgov kept Bynum from getting close to the basket and combined with Faried and McGee to completely take him out of the game.

JaVale McGee dominated Bynum on both ends of the floor.

For the Lakers, it was a pretty bad night. Other than Kobe, no one but Bynum and (surprisingly) Matt Barnes reached double digits in scoring. Bynum posted 16 points and 11 rebounds, but he looked completely frustrated and allowed Denver to take him out of his game, which became pretty evident after his purposeless shove on Kenneth Faried that led to a technical foul. But although Bynum is a big area of concern right now after being outplayed by McGee on both ends of the floor, the Lakers have even bigger problems: Ramon Sessions and Pau Gasol. Sessions was supposed to be the missing piece to the championship puzzle for LA, but he’s failed to have a significant impact so far. He hit a big 3-pointer to pull the Lakers that much closer to a comeback victory, but other than that he was pretty absent. The biggest problem in this series has been Pau Gasol though. Gasol used to be Kobe’s second-hand man and a dominant, skilled force in the paint. But now that Bynum is around, Gasol has been moved out of the paint and functions more like a facilitator. Gasol only put up nine points and 10 rebounds and has been putting up similar numbers for this entire series. Credit Denver’s post players for not allowing scoring in the paint but Gasol has got to get himself more involved on offense if the Lakers want to win.

Kobe played lights out and the Nuggets still got the win. So far, a lot of credit has to go to George Karl for developing this squad into a competitive team. They don’t have superstars, but they have veterans, developing talent and plenty of depth. The Nuggets have done what they needed to do to stay competitive in this series: they’ve prevented Bynum and Gasol from having a field day down low, they’ve utilized their advantage at the point guard position, and they’ve overwhelmed the Lakers’ starting five with balanced scoring and overall effort at every position. And even though Kobe went off in Game 5, the Nuggets won because they limited production from everyone else. Andre Miller and JaVale McGee have been huge and have to continue their high level of production to keep Denver alive. Al Harrington has struggled but all it takes is one good shooting night and the Nuggets could make this series very interesting if it goes to Game 7 in LA. And just as a side note, last night was further proof the Kobe will never go down in history as the greatest player in the NBA. Although his barrage of 3-pointers was impressive and he finished with 43 in a pretty stellar performance, his last three shots, which all could have tied the game, sounded something like this: “CLANK. CLANK. CLANK.” I don’t remember Michael Jordan missing that many shots in the playoffs with the game on the line.

Yeah, Kobe’s performance last night was extremely impressive. But when his team needed it most, he came up short three times.

LA Steals Game 4 On The Road

Denver was poised to even the series up at two games apiece and head back to LA with a renewed sense of hope, but an unlikely hero emerged and the Lakers stole Game 4 with a 92-88 win on the road. Los Angeles now leads the series 3-1 and will look to send this balanced Nuggets team home with a win at Staples Center in Game 5 tomorrow night. With Kobe Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol all on the floor, everyone thought one of these guys would provide the dagger as the audience felt the game start to slip away from Denver. But in the end, it turned out to be none other than Steve Blake who decimated the Nuggets’ chances in the game and possibly the whole series.

Kobe led LA with 22 points, eight rebounds and six assists, Bynum had 19 points and seven rebounds and Gasol finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and six assists. But it was Blake’s 10 points off the bench, which included the 3-pointer that put the Lakers ahead by six with 18 seconds left, that proved to be Denver’s undoing. It was Jordan Hill’s 12 points and 11 rebounds that kept the Lakers from being overwhelmed by Denver’s depth. And even though the Nuggets’ bench still outscored LA’s, the fact that the Lakers’ supporting cast even contributed gave them the upper hand.

If you had said before Game 4 that Steve Blake would be the difference, would anyone have believed you?

Denver did a good job of containing Andrew Bynum again, using double teams to get the ball out of his hands. Kobe had an all-around great game, but the Nuggets were able to prevent him from going off in the scoring column by holding him to just 10-of-25 shooting. But their lack of offensive production from some of the guys who gave Denver a Game 3 victory eventually hurt them, especially when Blake and Hill started making shots. Ty Lawson, who had a stellar performance in the Nuggets’ first game at home, finished with just 11 points. Kenneth Faried had just six points and seven rebounds. JaVale McGee, who was a hero in Game 3 for guarding Bynum and still finding energy on the offensive end, could only tally eight points and four rebounds after getting tired early in the second half. Al Harrington struggled with his shot and missed a few big 3-pointers. And Arron Afflalo, who seems like he won’t show up in time for the end of the playoffs this year, could only muster six points. Danilo Gallinari finally had an efficient shooting night, leading the Nuggets with 20 points on 9-of-16 shooting, but he only got significant help from Andre Miller, who had 15 points off the bench.

A few key plays killed Denver down the stretch, but the Lakers earned the victory and the Nuggets didn’t have what it took to prevent a crucial Game 4 from slipping through their fingers. Gallinari getting laid out on a clean pick by Gasol led to a wide open 3-pointer for Ramon Sessions that put LA up by three, which proved to be insurmountable and was an extremely unfortunate break for the Nuggets (Gallo looked like he flopped, but Gasol did raise his shoulders and pop him in the throat. But then again, the pick was definitely clean and didn’t warrant a foul call. This debate could go on and on so we’re just going to chalk it up to a bad break for Denver/good play by the Lakers and leave it at that). Whatever the case, Denver couldn’t get the job done and will go home sooner than expected unless they somehow win Game 5 in LA against the cold-blooded killer and closer that is Kobe Bryant. This would require an inordinate amount of team chemistry, improved shooting, no production from LA’s bench and similarly stifling defense on both Kobe and Bynum. This is a tall order, but it should be worth watching if George Karl can rally his balanced team to keep this series competitive.

Danilo Gallinari led the Nuggets with 20, but his absence on a key play with less than a minute to go ultimately killed his team.