Defense leads the way for the Lakers

One of 5,000 missed Nene layups (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

It's no mystery that the Lakers struggle mightily against teams on the road. The Florida road trip turned into a disaster with straight blowouts. Starting off a crucial six game road trip, the Lakers needed to get off on the right foot. Coming into this game, the Nuggets had been touted as title contenders because of their potent offense and deep bench. They had just finished dismantling the Clippers the night before with a barrage of threes. The NBA-sphere was buzzing about the Nuggets potential to go all the way. The Lakers' chances looked bleak on the outset, as the Nuggets always play the Lakers tough. Tonight, the Lakers finally came through on the road against a key player in the playoff hunt, with a 93-89 win. It was a tough, gritty, ugly win, which is quickly becoming the Lakers style.

The Lakers started the game off feeding Andrew Bynum. He made the Nuggets pay with 4-4 shots made in the first quarter. The lead stretched to 11 at one point, before the Nuggets closed the gap to 2 to end the quarter. Goudelock was key for the Lakers with Kobe and Gasol on the bench, as the Nuggets began doubling and even triple teaming Bynum. This was key because aside from Goudelock, the bench combined for a total of two field goals the entire game. With Goudelock on the floor, the Lakers went on a 7-0 run in the second. In the fourth quarter, the lead stretched all the way to 8 at one point until Al Harrington put the Nuggets on his back, pulling the Nuggets within 4 coming into the final, dramatic minute.

The Lakers continued to lack late game execution, turning the ball over on an errant Gasol pass, and not using enough of the shot clock. It was beginning to look all too familiar: Lakers leading late in the fourth, a Gasol errant pass, losing the ball out of bounds, the lead quickly disappearing. The Lakers were incensed after a non-call foul on Bynum gave the ball back to the Nuggets with the chance for them to tie or win it. Mike Brown: "Obviously it was a missed call. It was tough to swallow. ... We didn't execute down the stretch. We got lucky." George Karl drew up a play for Al Harrington, who had been the only Nugget all night who could consistently put up points, to shoot a three. Metta World Peace played tough defense as Al Harrington's step back three missed. The win was a huge relief, as another fourth quarter meltdown would have soured the road trip. Afterwards, Kobe said: "I keep telling everybody, 'We're going to be fine.' ... We're kind of getting used to everything with no practices.""

Keys To The Game:

Defense in the paint - The Lakers held Nene and Gallinari to only 6 of 21 shooting. The Nuggets seemed to miss easy layup after easy layup.

Clutch Intangibles - Derick Fisher hit another late key jumper to extend the lead in the final minute. This was key, as the Nuggets were doubling Kobe and Bynum. Metta World Peace also hit a three pointer in the final minutes.

Playing through calls - Andrew Bynum was hacked on a layup attempt with just seconds to go. The referees acknowledged the non-call afterwards, although it resulted in a Denver possession with a chance to tie or win, with the Lakers only up 2.

Key Performances:

Andrew Bynum - Early on, he was simply unstoppable, making all four of his first shots. As a result Denver began sending hard double and triple teams. Bynum struggled at times, turning the ball over 4 times. He finished with 22 points and 10 rebounds. He did have a bonehead moment late, drawing a technical foul by getting in the face of Kosta Koufos: "I was just a little mad because he was bumping me, he was trying to be real physical and it was a hard foul," Bynum said.

Andrew Goudelock - He was smooth and confident at all times, and was key to the Lakers keeping pace with the Nuggets' ridiculously deep bench. He scored 13 points and was the only bench player to make more than one field goal. He is becoming invaluable to the offense and the bench unit. With Kobe and Gasol on the bench, the Lakers now have a Bynum-Goudelock tandem that is proving to be effective.

Kobe Bryant - His shooting woes in Denver season continue, as he is now 25% from the field in Denver. However, his passing was absolutely brilliant, as he finished with 9 assists to go along with 20 points.

Pau Gasol - Late in the game he played a key role in side pick and rolls with Kobe. Although it doesn't show on the box score, he did make a corner three at the buzzer that was a little late. He grabbed 17 rebounds and finished with 13 points on 50% shooting.

Random Tidbits:

On the plane ride to Utah, Metta World Peace had a special assignment for the rookies:

Mike Trudell

& were just forced (by World Peace) to sing "Happy Birthday" to Kapono over plane loudspeaker.

Mike Trudell

Actually, twice made the rookies stop singing, & restart, citing not enough enthusiasm.
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