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.

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Lakers Take Care of Business

Despite a drastically improved performance from the Nuggets, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers would not be denied at home in Game 2, outlasting some late Denver runs to take a 2-0 lead on the series in a 104-100 victory. George Karl and the Nuggets know they can compete with LA now, but it might be too little, too late, even with the series shifting back to Denver.

So far a few key factors have become clear. Unless any of the following things change, the Nuggets can’t win the series and could possibly exit the postseason without a single victory:

1) Kobe Bryant has been able to exert his will and dominate the Nuggets’ defense, shooting almost 49 percent from the floor in two games. He’s dropped 31 and 38 so far and Arron Afflalo hasn’t been able to bother him or disrupt his shot enough. Stopping Kobe during the postseason is next to impossible; but if the Nuggets can’t play more physical with him and make him miss more shots, he will continue to put up 30+ points a night.

2) Andrew Bynum has been a huge problem for Denver’s defense and offense so far. In Game 2, Kobe dropped 38, which usually would indicate that his teammates scored a lot less. But Bynum actually finished with 27 points. Kobe and Bynum shot more than 50 percent of LA’s shots and combined for more than half of their points. Bynum has challenged shots at the rim and although Lawson had a much improved offensive game, the Nuggets’ offensive struggles are a testament to his (and Pau Gasol’s) interior size and shot-blocking ability.

3) Arron Afflalo has yet to show up and play a good game from start to finish. Aside from being unable to challenge Kobe on the defensive end, Afflalo has failed to live up to the quality shooting guard he had become by the end of the season. Afflalo is only putting up 10.0 points a game after averaging 18.7 in the month of April. If his shooting struggles continue for Games 3 and 4 in Denver, LA will end this series in five games (at least).

Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum are Denver’s main problems, as they have been dominant in the first two games of this series.

These have been the three major factors in the series so far. You could bring up Andre Miller playing well in Game 1 and then not scoring in Game 2 and you could also point out how the Lakers got way more production out of their bench than anyone anticipated in the playoff opener. But the fact is, if Denver had competed in Game 1 like they did in Game 2, they might have been able to grab a win on the road at Staples Center. But after being obliterated in Game 1 and then falling short in Game 2, the message has been sent that Denver just can’t hang with this team. Between Kobe Bryant and the Lakers’ size advantage, the Nuggets just don’t pose as much of a threat as I anticipated. Even when LA’s role players didn’t do much in Game 2, the Lake Show was still too much to handle: Ramon Sessions was scoring (14 points), Pau Gasol came close to a triple double (for the second consecutive game), and, of course, Kobe and Bynum were unstoppable.

Denver might get a win at home to extend the series an extra game or two, but if Los Angeles wins Game 3, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a sweep. I’ve got to think George Karl and his squad are too resilient to let that happen and they might come close to tying the series up at home, but as is the case with any balanced team, everyone has to come ready to play every single game. When the Lakers’ talented starting five are playing the majority of the game, a team with depth and balanced scoring only becomes an advantage if guys can come in and play at a consistently high level. So far, there have been too many inconsistencies and the Lakers have taken advantage of them.

Don’t get me wrong; Denver has a promising future and I’ve been extremely impressed with rookie Kenneth Faried; another year or two of development and this guy could become a star to complement Ty Lawson and Danilo Gallinari. But the Nugget no-show in Game 1 absolutely killed them and gave them the near-impossible task of rebounding for a win in Game 2. Even though Gallinari and Corey Brewer have played well so far and held up their end of the bargain, Faried is too young, Lawson is too small and the Nuggets are too thinly spread out to have much hope in advancing against this Lakers powerhouse. Unless Denver can find a way to tie the series up at home, LA will move on to the second round.

Denver has no chance unless Arron Afflalo shows up to play.

LA Block Party

The Lakers started the postseason off on a strong note with a convincing 103-88 win over the visiting Denver Nuggets in Game 1. LA has been on upset alert since the Western playoff matchups were determined, but Kobe Bryant and company left no doubt that the Nuggets will need to bring everything they’ve got to have a chance in this series.

Kobe finished with 31 points, but most of them came in garbage time. In fact, for the majority of the game, Denver did an adequate job of keeping him contained. So where did the Nuggets go wrong? Well, allowing guys like Steve Blake and Devin Evanks to score nine and 12 (respectively) by halftime is a bad start. Jordan Hill had 10 points as well. Andrew Bynum dropped a triple double, but his 10 blocks were the biggest part of that statline as he completely clogged up the middle. However, the worst part was Denver’s defense allowed all this to happen while Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo, who both had been playing lights out coming into the postseason, each shot 3-for-11 from the floor (6-for-22 combined). That can’t happen if Denver wants to contend in this series.

Andrew Bynum prevented Ty Lawson and the Nuggets from getting their offense going at the rim.

LA definitely had everything going their way. Kobe dropped his expected 20-30+ points, Bynum and Pau Gasol did their thing down in the paint and Ramon Sessions and the bench contributed a perfectly appropriate amount with Ron Artest sitting out. Kenneth Faried had a hard time getting shots up and Lawson couldn’t even come close because of Bynum’s presence in the middle, which was directly connected to his poor shooting night.

There are only two bright spots for Denver after such a one-sided defeat. The first is that Danilo Gallinari played well and finished with 19 points. If the Nuggets are going to keep the series close, they need Gallo to score like he did. The second positive note is that Denver’s bench showed their worth and pitched in some buckets to keep this one from being a complete blowout. Andre Miller, Corey Brewer and Al Harrington played fine and finished with a combined 33 points off the bench. Unfortunately, it was Denver’s starting lineup that didn’t get the job done today.

That being said, Denver really has to enter Game 2 with a sense of urgency and get a road win to have a chance for the upset. The Lakers smell blood in the water after such an easy victory and Kobe Bryant is a cold-hearted killer. Unless Lawson and Afflalo regroup and play lights out in Game 2, this balanced Nuggets squad might fall short of their playoff potential before anybody even gets a chance to see it.

Danilo Gallinari is one of the few bright spots Denver can take into Game 2.

Injury Report – 3/24/12

Derrick Rose – Rose returned to practice but was limited and is unlikely to play tonight in the Bulls’ contest with the Raptors. Rose has missed the past five games for Chicago with a pulled groin but is still listed as day-to-day. Chicago has been successful without their star point guard on the court, but I’ve already written about how much D-Rose means to the Bulls and that sentiment grows with the playoffs looming.

Brook Lopez – Lopez’s ankle injury has been reevaluated and the New Jersey center will be out for at least another two weeks, putting his return date in mid-April. Because the Nets are not exactly contending for anything, they may consider just sidelining him for the rest of the year.

Kyle Lowry – Lowry’s bacterial infection that sent him to the hospital will keep him sidelined for an indefinite period of time. Lowry was initially projected to return in two to four weeks but The Houston Chronicle reports that his return could still be weeks away. This is a critical stretch for the Rockets, who currently hold on to the number eight seed in the West.

Kevin Martin – Martin’s MRI showed a tear in the labral of his right shoulder, an existing injury he aggravated February 2 and then became a major problem March 11 after running into a screen against the Cavs. Although he is listed as day-to-day, expect him to miss a more substantial amount of time now.

Michael Pietrus – Pietrus left Boston’s matchup with Philly yesterday on a stretcher in the first half. He was hospitalized and was diagnosed with a closed head injury after landing hard on his back in a collision with Lou Williams. The game was delayed for 10 minutes while medical trainers looked on. Fortunately, it was reported this morning that Pietrus was lucky enough to avoid a serious head injury, though he may have a concussion. Pietrus could return to the court sometime this season.

Pietrus was hospitalized after landing hard on his back. His neck seemed to whiplash.

Andrew Bogut – Despite reports that Bogut could make a late-season return, Golden State’s new center will not be making his debut for the Warriors this season. In fact, Bogut may not even be ready to play for Australia in the Summer Olympics.

Al Horford – Horford will not play for the remainder of the regular season, but could possibly return during the postseason. Atlanta’s skilled big man tore his pectoral muscle January 11 and has not played since.

Eric Gordon – Gordon is set to return to practice next week. Although the Hornets didn’t give an expected return date, this is a good sign for New Orleans’ injury-plagued guard.

Tony Parker – Parker missed the Spurs’ game yesterday with a mild hamstring strain he sustained in Wednesday’s victory over Minnesota. For now, consider him day-to-day.

Stephen Curry – Curry’s ankle is set to be reexamined by the Warriors’ medical staff this weekend. His status for next week and perhaps the rest of the season will depend on what the medical staff determines, as the Warriors have said they will not play Curry until he is 100 percent.

Anderson Varejao – Varejao is expected to return to practice in one or two weeks after sitting out since February 10 with a wrist injury. However, the Cavs are starting to slip away from playoff contention, which means they will not rush Varejao’s return.

Rodney Stuckey – Stuckey missed yesterday’s game with a strained toe injury. It was the second game he has missed for the Pistons, but he is still listed as day-to-day.

Danilo Gallinari – After suffering a fractured left thumb against the Mavericks, Gallinari could miss up to four weeks. This is a tough break for Denver’s talented small forward, who already missed considerable time earlier this season and was just getting back into rhythm. However, the Nuggets should be okay and do not need to rush his return thanks to Wilson Chandler and JaVale McGee.

Nikola Pekovic – Pekovic’s ankles, which have been a recurring problem over the past few weeks, might keep him sidelined for Sunday’s game against the Nuggets. Pekovic is hopeful to return for Minnesota’s matchup with Denver, but T-Wolves fans shouldn’t hold their breath until he has played (and stayed) on the court for an entire game.

Quick Injury Update – 3/5/12

Danilo Gallinari and Nene saw limited action in the Nuggets’ overtime win against Sacramento last night. Fantasy owners should be patient; although they are not putting up big minutes yet, it is to be expected that Karl eases his two stars back into playing, especially with the Nuggets playing so well right now. Look for Denver to make a surge in the West in the next few weeks.

Brook Lopez is expected to miss 3 weeks with an ankle injury. Fantasy owners’ disappointment should be paramount, as Lopez was finally back in the lineup and playing extremely well for a few games before yet another injury. The Nets will be hurting by his absence, as Deron Williams can’t be expected to drop 50+ every night.

An unfortunate but familiar sight for Brook Lopez

Chris Bosh is set to return to action tonight after missing the last three games because of his grandmother’s death. The Heat probably wouldn’t have needed him back too badly for tonight’s game against the lowly Nets, especially with Brook Lopez out, but the Heat have lost two of their last three without him and will certainly be looking to reestablish their rhythm.

Tyson Chandler is still nursing a wrist injury and although he hasn’t missed any games because of it, Mike D’Antoni said he might sit him if it gets any worse. Losing him for even a few games would be a big loss considering his averages of 11.6 ppg and 9.8 rpg, along with the defensive presence he brings in the paint.

Chandler has been dealing with some wrist pain since the Knick's game against the Mavs on February 19.


Injury Report – 2/23/12

Brook Lopez – Lopez returned to the Nets’ starting lineup last night against Orlando and had 15 points in 28 minutes. Despite missing nearly every game of the season so far, Lopez had a solid outing in his first game with extended minutes, and should get better as the rust wears off.

Iman Shumpert – Shumpert, who has missed the Knicks’ last two games with patella tendinitis in his left knee, was forced to withdraw from the All-Star Slam Dunk contest. He will be replaced by Jeremy Evans of the Utah Jazz. The Knicks are missing one of their better perimeter defenders, but can survive without his presence for awhile.

Joe Johnson – Johnson was ruled out of the All-Star game because of left knee tendinitis. He missed last night’s game against the Knicks, who got an easy win over the Hawks without him on the floor. He is expected to return by February 29th for Atlanta’s game against the Warriors. Rajon Rondo will replace Johnson in the All-Star game.

Greg Oden – Oden had his fifth knee surgery in five years on Monday. He has not played in a game since the end of 2007 and no estimate for his return has been given. This is another tough break for Trail Blazers fans. Between Oden and Brandon Roy’s early retirement due to his deteriorating knees, “injury” has become a cursed word in Portland.

Al Horford – Horford tweeted on Tuesday that he has not even begun rehab for his pectoral surgery. He is still in the recovery phase, so his return will likely be mid-April after rehab. This news is unfortunate for Hawks fans, who are now missing him and Joe Johnson.

Ty Lawson – Lawson missed last night’s game against the Clippers with a sprained ankle. He may play tonight, but the Nuggets may decide to bench him until after the All-Star break and give him a little more time to rest.

Rip Hamilton – Coach Thibodeau said Hamilton will return a little before or soon after the All-Star break. He has been out since the end of January with groin and thigh issues, but his return is not necessary as D-Rose and the rest of the Bulls are rolling again.

Manu Ginobili – Ginobili is set to miss a few weeks after straining his left oblique on Saturday. The Spurs have been fine without him this season, streaking to the second spot in the West, but would obviously like to have him back and healthy.

Spencer Hawes – The 76ers are starting to miss this big man’s presence, especially in rebounding and scoring. Unfortunately, there is still nothing new to report. Hawes is still in the walking boot and slated for a return sometime in March.

Tiago Splitter – Splitter is expected to miss two weeks after sustaining a calf injury in the Spurs’ game against the Clippers on Saturday. He had been a solid contributor off the bench for San Antonio, but they should be okay for two weeks without him.

Zach Randolph – Z-Bo will stay in Memphis during All-Star weekend and work with the team’s athletic trainer. He is expected to start contract drills on Monday and is expected to return on March 7 for the Grizzlies’ game against Golden State. He has played in only four games this season due to an MCL tear.

Jason Richardson – J-Rich missed his third straight game with a chest inflammation. He will be getting a second opinion to make sure the situation isn’t serious, but he should be back after the All-Star break.

Stephen Jackson – Jackson has missed the Bucks’ last two games with a hamstring injury. His playing time has been very inconsistent this season due to Coach Scott Skiles’ problem with Jackson’s attitude. This injury certainly won’t help the situation.

Danilo Gallinari – Gallinari is still on schedule to return from the ankle injury after the All-Star break. He has limited to the exercise bike in practice, but he said he’s feeling better. If all goes according to plan, the Nuggets should welcome him back into the lineup for Wednesday’s game against the Trailblazers.

Andrea Bargnani – Bargnani is still set to return sometime in March after the All-Star break. No immediate timetable for his return has been given, however.

Brandon Bass – Bass is also set to return from his knee injury after All-Star weekend. The Celtics really could use the offensive boost off the bench.

Carl Landry – Landry, who has missed the last two weeks with an MCL sprain, is still expected to be out for another few weeks. His return will do little to help the Hornets improve their standing this season, but he should be set to return sometime in March.

Byron Mullens – Mullens sat out last night against the Pacers with an illness. He is listed as day-to-day right now.

Nene – Nene is still expected to sit out until after the All-Star break. Coach Karl said he will likely not average a lot of minutes again until next season given his conditioning.

Elton Brand – Brand’s sprained right thumb will keep him out until after the All-Star break. Hopefully this injury doesn’t become a recurring issue, as he missed two games earlier this month for the same reason.

Gerald Henderson – Henderson missed his 9th consecutive game for the Bobcats last night, but is expected to return after the All-Star break.

Eric Gordon – Gordon will be out until early April at the earliest as he revealed he has cartilage damage in his knee injury. This is another blow to the Hornets’ already catastrophic season.

Andray Blatche – Blatche is set to test his calf sometime this week. He has sat out for the Wizards since the end of January.

Drew Gooden – Gooden has a torn ligament in his right wrist and is set to get a second opinion on the injury. He said he hopes to be back after the All-Star break.

Emeka Okafor – Okafor has missed the last four games with a sore left knee, but should return for the Hornets right after the All-Star break.

Nuggets Nosedive?

The Denver Nuggets started the season on a promising note but after a tough overtime loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder last night, they have lost 10 of their last 13 games. Even before Gallinari went down with the ankle injury, the Nuggets had lost four of their last five. So the question has to be asked: Are the Nuggets in trouble?

In short, no. Worry not, Denver fans! Despite this recent nosedive, as long as Gallinari and Nene are healthy for the playoffs, your team should be just fine once the postseason rolls around. Although the Nuggets have slid into the 9th spot in the West with the loss, as long as this injury-ridden team keeps the losses to a minimum over the next few games, things should start looking up once their leading man Gallinari takes the court again. And here’s an encouraging stat: of the Nuggets’ last 10 losses, six of them have been by 8 points or less. The Nuggets are still staying competitive for the most part, they just need to start picking up the W’s in close situations again.

The Nuggets really miss this guy, but should be fine if they can win half of their next six games

Unfortunately, this may be easier said than done. The Nuggets’ next six games include the surging Timberwolves, Clippers, Trailblazers, Rockets and two meetings with the Spurs, the NBA’s hottest team at the moment. If the Nuggets can get half of those games, Gallinari and Nene should be back right as Denver’s schedule eases up a little bit (Kings, Cavs, Hornets and Grizzlies). These softer games will allow Denver’s injured stars to get back into rhythm before taking on the Hawks, Thunder, Celtics and Mavs.

The Nuggets have been highly competitive in the West for years thanks to George Karl, an extremely supportive fan base, and a style of play that revolves around team basketball. After the major Carmelo/Chauncey Billups trade that left the Nuggets with nine players for their next game, the Denver Nuggets were resilient. After George Karl was diagnosed with cancer and went through chemotherapy and came back the next season to coach his team, the Denver Nuggets were resilient. In the hardest times, this team displays one of their most endearing traits that fans have come to love them for: their heart and effort almost every time they take the floor. Despite not having Gallinari and Nene on the floor, the Nuggets still almost pulled out a win on the road against a great OKC squad (on a night that saw Durant eclipse 50, Westbrook drop 40, and Serge Ibaka record a triple double).

Despite this recent skid uncharacteristic of this Nuggets team, this guy will keep them competitive

Denver has come up a bit short in these past few games. But with guards like Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo leading the team in their stars’ absence, along with role players like Andre Miller, Al Harrington, Kosta Koufos, Chris Andersen, and Corey Brewer, Denver should have no problem regrouping once they’re at full strength again.