Even though this is a long series, the pressure really has to be on the Denver Nuggets when they visit Staples Center in Los Angeles tonight for the second game of the Western Conference Finals.
Oh, I've heard your chattering before — "it's a 7 game series and it's just starting, blah blah blah." Yeah, yeah, yeah — whatever. Objectively, I might even acknowledge that you are right. But the NBA playoffs aren't about objective mathematics (winning 4 out of 7 independent, sterile, neutral games), they are about subjective things like team chemistry and group psychology and which unit is feeling good about their ball movement and jumper stroke and which unit is getting to the rim and racking up the wins as a result.
These games are not independent, sterile, and neutral.
I am a big believer in the great queen of the subjective world, the Bitch Goddess known as Home Court Advantage. Tennis is all about breaking your opponent's serve — managing to win while ducking and self-preserving against 110 mph screamers . The NBA playoffs are all about coming into the other team's building, kicking their flabby butts in front of mommy and 20,000 screaming, beer-fueled, loud-mouthed home folks, and packing home the victory.
The Nuggets have to hold serve three times in Colorado and break serve one out of four on the purple-painted floor. Game 1 was their best shot, when then had unequal rest and preparation time. They had that win in their paws, but they let it slip away...
Now things get rather more difficult for the tattooed wonders. Each team has had only one day for bodies to rest and brains to be fortified. This time around, the stock cars are equalized.
The task would be expected to become even more difficult for the Nuggets in Games 5 and 7, marked as they are by travel and all the chaos which that entails — not to mention by the utter lack of the element of surprise. Things won't get any easier, that's for sure. Game 2 is quite simply the least ominous remaining California tilt for Karl & Co.
The Nuggets haven't triumphed over the Lakers on their floor in a dog's lifetime, but they've got to do it once or they'll be working on their short iron game in the great outdoors. If they drop tonight's match, the hill they will need to climb to meet the, ummmm, Orlando Magic or that other team in the NBA Finals starts looking pretty big...
What does Denver need to do to win tonight (other than more of the same but more efficiently)? Let's pay a visit to the fans and experts of Nuggetland and find out...
(Click through for more stuff...)
Click the headlines to read the full stories...
by Benjamin Hochman, Denver Post
LOS ANGELES - You went to elementary school with Kobe Bryant, even if you might not know it. He's the guy who didn't study his spelling, and still won the dang spelling bee.
You work with Kobe Bryant. Even in your best month, he still makes more commission, ho-hum, even if he takes two weeks off.
The Lakers star is infuriating, never more for Nuggets fans than Tuesday in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals. He scored 18 points in the fourth quarter, 40 overall, in lifting his team over Denver 105-103.
"I won't say he relaxes," said Nuggets guard J.R. Smith, "but he'll coast the first three quarters and then in that fourth quarter, when they really need him, he pulls out that Superman cape."
So how do you kryptonite this guy? Nuggets coach George Karl has a few thoughts.
"I think basically, when we're solid on him, defending him without mistakes, taking chances, (we're good)," Karl said. "He's going to get enough points. Let's not give him easy points."
The Nuggets don't plan any radical defensive adjustments for Game 2 tonight. Their plan is to keep Dahntay Jones on him to start, then adjust with a variety of defenders to give Bryant different looks.
"I'm not that mad at him," Karl said in jest, even though Jones got into early foul trouble and struggled against Bryant.
By the fourth quarter tonight, just as in Game 1, expect Carmelo Anthony to get some minutes guarding Bryant, complemented with more double-teams than in the previous three quarters.
Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin also will spend time on the Lakers guard, and Denver's plan — on paper — is to take the ball out of Bryant's hands and hope his teammates don't bury 3-pointers, which, alas, happened in key moments during Game 1. * * *
by Chris Dempsey, Denver Post
PLAYA VISTA, Calif. - Nuggets guard J.R. Smith and forward Kenyon Martin will play hurt in Game 2 of the Western Conference finals tonight.
Smith is dealing with a calf strain he suffered late in Game 1. He limped around the Los Angeles Clippers' practice facility Wednesday during a team workout.
Smith did not run during practice. He did some treadmill work beforehand and sat during much of the on-court session. Still, he said he will be ready to go tonight.
"I'm definitely going to play," Smith said. "I don't think nothing can keep me from this game. It's getting better. It's more of a calf strain than anything. I'm doing the right thing, just staying and getting extra treatment."
Martin fractured his left ring finger during the Nuggets' loss Tuesday but is expected to play tonight.
Renaldo Balkman, who didn't play Tuesday, is nursing a sprained ankle. He is listed as doubtful for Game 2. * * *
by Chris Dempsey, Denver Post
PLAYA VISTA, Calif. - Thirty minutes after the Nuggets lost Game 1 at the Staples Center on Tuesday night, some Denver players were laughing it up, cracking jokes in the locker room, putting the loss behind them.
Wednesday was more of the same. If the Nuggets are worried about this series, they sure aren't showing it. * * *
"Oh, we're going to respond. I guarantee we respond," Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony said Wednesday. "We're not really worried about trailing. It's just one game. It's going to be a long series and we're going to be ready to go. We're still a confident team."
Nuggets coach George Karl concurred, saying his team "had 20 possessions where we know we can play better." He was pleased with his team's play overall except for critical miscues late. The Nuggets had a 96-92 lead with just over three minutes left.
"I thought we were a very good basketball team the whole game," Karl said. "We didn't finish in probably the hardest place to finish in basketball. And we didn't finish at both ends. We made defensive mistakes without rebounding the basketball. And our offense had mistakes too."
Karl is not worried about his team's ability to bounce back. The Nuggets haven't lost consecutive games since losing three straight from March 6-9. * * *
by Mark Kiszla, Denver Post
LOS ANGELES - After one game of the Western Conference finals, the official score is: Los Angeles Lakers 1, Nuggets coach George Karl 0.
Hey, Karl owes us one. Big time. And he knows it.
"In finishing the game, I wish I could have done better," Karl said Wednesday, still trying to figure out how the Nuggets managed to lose 105-103 to the Lakers in Game 1.
Is this best-of-seven series over? It should be. And the Lakers could be the team that's done, if only Karl had not choked.
Within his own organization, the Nuggets' fifth-year coach is sometimes referred to as George Naismith, and it's not necessarily a term of endearment for a guy who can act as if he invented the game.
L.A. coach Phil Jackson admitted Denver outplayed his Lakers on their home floor during the series opener, yet the visitors somehow lost.
Was that a psychological jab at Karl?
Here's the weird part: Although the 1996 NBA Finals were a long time ago, and the memories of his Seattle team losing to the Chicago Bulls of Michael Jordan and Jackson should have started to fade, every time Karl stands in the shadow of the Zen Master, your Nuggets coach seems to be trying too hard to impress, and winds up awkwardly playing by that old self-help book from Stuart Smalley, "You're Good Enough, You're Smart Enough and Doggone It, People Like You!" * * *
by Jeremy, Roundball Mining Co.
* * *
[Carter for Andersen?!?!]
* Nuggets fans are very upset that George Karl subbed Anthony Carter in the game in place of Chris Andersen. If Carter does not throw the ball away no one bats an eye at the substitution and despite the fact he was being covered by Lamar Odom, there is no reason other than sloppiness that his inbounds pass was stolen.
There was 30 seconds left on the clock and I think Karl wanted to get a quick shot in three or four seconds for Carmelo Anthony or Chauncey Billups so that the Lakers did not have a chance to run the clock out for the final shot in a tie game. That pass by Carter will probably haunt his dreams for the rest of his life. I know it will haunt mine. * * *
* We talked about this in the chat, but I want Kobe to be suspended for game two so let's keep it going. There is no way to know for sure, but early in the fourth quarter when Kobe hurt his finger trying to catch a pass it sure looked like he loaded up before running into Kenyon.
We all know Kobe lashes out briefly when he gets angry (remember the forearm to Manu Ginobili's face a couple of years back after Manu blocked his shot?) and I think there is a possibility that the way he swung his arm he may have slammed into Kenyon's nether regions deliberately. ESPN deserves kudos for actually showing the replay a couple of times although none of the announcing crew actually questioned Kobe's intent. Kenyon has been punished unfairly for his past, for example his $25,000 fine for his little push of Dirk in the previous series, so why is this not looked at with more suspicion because of Kobe's past? * * *
by Johnny Domenico, Nuggets' Nuggetz
Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, no teams dominated like the Cavs and the Nuggets. Cleveland barely broke a sweat winning both series' in the minimum 8 games. Denver let their oppponents hang around a couple times, but ultimately posted the largest scoring margin through the first two rounds in playoff history.
You hear a lot about how a playoff series doesn't begin until a team wins on the road. Well I say the playoffs have just begun for these two teams after tasting defeat for the first time early in a series. I haven't followed the Cavs reaction much after their devastating loss, but I've been very impressed with Denver's maturity and professionalism following Tuesday night's last-minute defeat. * * *
Keeping in mind the current opponent is undoubtedly more talented than Dallas or New Orleans, I still see Game 2 as a great chance for Denver to get a win on the road and even their playoff road record at 3-3. A win tonight would be a great way to swing some momentum as the series shifts to Denver where the Nuggets have been unbeatable for over 2 months now. It would make the Lakers think a little more about how many games they've played over the last couple weeks. It would make the Lakers think a little more about how the altitude is going to affect their tired legs. It would be just what the Nuggets need to take control of a series that most "experts" are now ready to hand right back to LA. * * *
"Oh, I thought the Generals were due!"
So said The Simpsons' Krusty the Clown after betting - and losing - against the Globetrotters back in 1995.
The Generals may never beat the Globetrotters*, but some day, some team will be the first to defeat a Phil Jackson coached team who's ahead 1-0 in a playoff series. Why not the Nuggets?
As of today, every member of Nuggets Nation is familiar with Jackson's gaudy record for playoff series victories after being up 1-0. Just in case you've been hiding under a rock, it's 42-0. (It must be nice when you inherit Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen on one team and Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal on another. But I digress...) * * *
If you watch what the Magic did against the Cavaliers tonight, they stole that victory by being aggressive with their best players leading the way. The Magic could very well have lost tonight, but at least they would have done so with Rashard Lewis taking their last shot. Thanks to Karl's insistence on A.C. "protecting" the game, the Nuggets never really got that last good shot they desperately needed in Game 1. * * *
The bottom line is that the Nuggets did a lot of things very well on Tuesday night. But in order to be the first team ever to win a playoff series against a Phil Jackson coached team that's up 1-0, they'll need to repeat their Game 1 performance while playing much more aggressively down the stretch. * * *
Phil Jackson is due to lose a series that he's ahead in. If the Nuggets want to be the first team to pull that off, they need to take it, not wait for it.
posted by "Cal Meking" to Nuggets Talk message board
Losing game 1 was huge. We came in hot and playing the Cinderella story. Then came the favorites, sluggish and looking like they didn't have enough heart. Next thing you know, the best of both teams (JR) came in and everything went downhill.
Seriously, LA was fatigued and seemed to be mentally weak. They came off a tough series and didn't have much time to prepare for us. Yet, somehow, with everything going in our favor, we still managed to lose. You know how when nothing is going right and you still find a way to win, it gives you confidence? That may have been the game that allows LA to break this series open. We now have to win 3 games in a row or 3 in the next 4, to have a shot at winning. LA is saying to themselves "Gasol played bad, Kobe wasn't special, we were tired, yet still won. They can't beat us".
I called 5 games, I`m not backing off now.
posted by "Briggs" to Nuggets Talk messageboard
Everyone is getting way too down after a good game 1. The Nugs did what they have done all playoffs (with the exception of the 58 pt beatdown) on the road. They played a close game and gave themselves a shot to win in the end.
I actually took a lot of positives from that game
1) The Lakers do not match up against Melo well at all. Whatever mental block Melo when playing in LA is now gone, he should continue to play well.
2) Lakers do not match up against Billups well at all. Chauncey got where he wanted and the shots he wanted, however as an older guy coming off that much rest I think he was rusty. I would be looking for New Orleans series type numbers from Chauncey the rest of the way.
3) The Lakers bigs are not quick enough or interested enough to play solid help defense for 4 quarters. The Nugs piled up fouls and dunks on plays to the hoop. I would guess the emphasis in Game 2 will be to attack the rim
4) The achilles heal in the game was defensive rebounding. I don't think the nugs can shut the Lakers out in that department but there is alot of room for improvement.
I like the Nugs chances in game 2, but win or lose it is not the end of the series. Games 3, 4, and 6 are the must wins, that means the Nugs only need to win 1 of 4 on the road, that is very achievable, especially as they were right there last night.
Vince McMahon claims he's being thrown out. His opponent insists McMahon is the double-crosser.
It'd make a good story line for a wrestling feud - but it won't take place in Denver.
World Wrestling Entertainment is moving its Monday night show to Los Angeles because of a conflict with the Pepsi Center in Denver, which had booked two events for the same night.
The Nuggets are scheduled to host the Lakers on Monday in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals, but WWE had previously secured the arena for an episode of Monday Night Raw.
The WWE chairman criticized Kroenke Sports, which owns the Nuggets and Pepsi Center, for not being more helpful when the conflict arose over the weekend.
"They bumped us right out of the building, hardly an apology," McMahon said Wednesday. "They didn't do anything for us at all, and the media was talking about someone has to write a check. They didn't want to write anything and they wanted to give us a Sunday night. And the name of the show is Monday Night Raw." * * *
[INCLUDES SPORTSCENTER VIDEO OF VINCE McMAHON GOING OFF ON DENVER MANAGEMENT]
** A D D E N D A **
by Nate Timmons, Pickaxe and Roll
* * *
Just look at these Game 1 numbers from four key members of the Gold Medal squad:
Totals: 61-98 shooting (62.2%)
- LeBron James: 20-30 shooting for 49 points
- Carmelo Anthony: 14-20 shooting for 39 points
- Dwight Howard: 14-20 shooting for 30 points
- Kobe Bryant: 13-28 shooting for 40 points
Pretty unreal that those guys combined for 62.2% shooting in two games in the Conference Finals. * * *
[H]ere is what I'd like to see out of the Nuggets tonight:
- Only play Anthony Carter to rest Chauncey Billups. This would mean Carter plays 10 minutes or less ... preferably around 7 minutes. I don't say this because of AC's bad entry pass, but because Carter does not match up against any Laker guards. Limiting AC's minutes will probably be tough to do since J.R. Smith is dealing with a strained calf and it's not yet known how effective he can be. I'm hoping Smith is fine and he says he's going to play.
- Keep swarming the Lakers forwards. Pau Gasol went 5-9 from the floor in Game 1 and I expect the Lakers to get him the ball early and try to get him going. He wasn't much of a scoring force in the first game and the Lakers will need him to change that. Andrew Bynum only played 16 minutes and committed 5 fouls in Game 1 and Denver must get him into foul trouble again. * * *
- I loved Denver's quick start the other night and that needs to happen again. Melo is talking a good game to the media about Denver being ready tonight and again ... quick starts build confidence and deflate the 6th Man (the crowd.)
- No open threes. Denver didn't want to get beat in the paint and challenged L.A. to beat them from beyond the arc in Game 1. The Lakers did their part and had 8 different players hit threes in Game 1 and Derek Fisher was the biggest culprit going 3-6 from downtown. The Lakers were 11-25 or 44% from deep. * * *
- Denver's bench must play better. George Karl elected to open up the rotation a bit and didn't listen to anyone writing for or commenting on this blog and played Linas Kleiza (purely an offensive guy) instead of Renaldo Balkman (a Dennis Rodman clone w/ dreadlocks.) It continues to puzzle me why Karl elects to go with LK who hasn't shown any ability to get his offense going (0-0 for 0 points, 0 rebounds, 1 steal and 1 foul in 7 minutes in Game 1) over Balkman * * *
The Bottom Line:
1. The Game 1 loss hurt really badly, but our Nuggets proved they can play with the Lakers and beat the Lakers in their own building.
2. Lakers face bad matchups in Carmelo and Chauncey which Denver should be able to exploit. Nuggets are a little dinged (Smith and Martin) but it should not impact the result.
3. This series isn't over, although the Nuggets will probably need to win 3 of the next 4 games to pull it out.