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Game 5 Preview — The View from Denver...

So I woke up this morning, put on a pot of coffee, hopped through the shower, and started thinking about today's SS&R column.


My initial inclination was to really half-ass one as a sort of sight gag and commentary on the Lakers' Game 4 performance — a couple hundred words written by a dyslexic Ernest Hemingway after a lobotomy and links to an AP report published in a small newspaper in Arkansas and a grainy YouTube video.

But then I figured that nobody would get the joke.

Then I figured I'd go all Schadenfreude on the Cavaliers again, them having just gone down to Orlando by a seemingly insurmountable 3 games-to-1 on a missed last shot in overtime taken by Phil Knight's godson.

But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that if that half-court desperation chuck had been six inches to the right, the series would have been tied 2-2 and it would have been the Magic that were mortally wounded for the 2008-09 season.

That didn't seem right either.

So I was reduced to having to do what I really didn't want to do: come up with a few halfway creative paragraphs about the Game 5 matchup between the visiting Denver Nuggets (10-4) and the Los Angeles Lakers (10-6).

That's a real challenge, let me tell you.

One can't get too ecstatic about how great the Lakers are, because they'll only show you that for a few minutes or half a game, before they revert into a very Cleveland Cavalierish overreliance on their superstar and his very unsuper supporting cast. Meh.

Nor can one protesteth too much about how horribly inconsistent Team Purple is, even if it is true, because it's all been said before — 35 times by 7 different people on the front page of this site alone.

(I just made that stat up, by the way, so don't you go calculating your Pace-Adjusted SS&R Beefs per LAL Quarter Failure numbers based upon that...)

And Denver? What else can be said at this point?

Denver has been better than LAL throughout this series, start to finish, and they are probably going to lose in 7 games.

Do you really want to read a long essay on the injustice of the universe?

So instead, I'll dish you one quick thought you probably haven't heard elsewhere: if Dwight Howard didn't make his free throws like a REAL superstar in Games 3 and 4, Cleveland would be finishing their series at home in Game 5 tomorrow. Then they would spend the better part of the next week practicing gobbling large chocolate chip cookies, the delicious goodness of which represents their one championship ring...

You've Gotta Make Your Free Throws.

(More stuff after the jump...)



Nuggets Arrive at Best Shot

by Dave Krieger, Denver Post

They are gathered outside the door in their tattoos and gel-fros — OK, just the one gel-fro — ready to crash a party all set up for Kobe and LeBron. They are ready to take the NBA Finals from Nike and give them back to basketball.

But first they have to knock down that door.

After beating the Lakers by 19 points in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals without much help from their star scorer, the Nuggets have never been more confident than they are now.

Which is both their opportunity in Game 5 tonight in Los Angeles and the greatest threat to that opportunity. Flip their boundless confidence over and you'll find the emotionalism that arguably cost them at least one game of the series already.

"My personal feeling is it's time to stop kicking ourselves in the ass —you know, with the technicals and everything," Nuggets coach George Karl said Tuesday. "It's time to get real serious because it's good to be where we're at, but our job is very difficult."

No doubt. The Lakers won 65 games this season. Nevertheless, when the Nuggets found themselves behind in a playoff series for the first time in this postseason, trailing two games to one after blowing late leads in both losses, they steamrolled the Lakers in Game 4 to pull even.

"Sixty-five wins don't mean nothing right now," Kenyon Martin said. "They won those games. Great. They have the best record in the West. Can't take that from them. But it's a different ballgame now because we're playing the same team every other night. I think we match up with those guys well. So we like our chances."

The Lakers are making the guttural sounds of a team ready to unravel. Forward Pau Gasol wants more touches. Coach Phil Jackson wants more free throws. Or fewer. It's hard to tell, but he's definitely not happy with the referees.

None of that guarantees the Nuggets anything, especially if they react to their most lopsided victory of the series by getting too happy with themselves, a common foible during the regular season. * * *



Jones' Foul Upgraded

by The Denver Post

* * *
Dahntay Jones has now heard two of the three teams the Nuggets have met in the playoffs declare him a dirty player.
Jones appeared to trip Lakers guard Kobe Bryant during Game 4. The play was initially called a foul but was upgraded Tuesday to the flagrant-1 level by the NBA.

"There's nothing I can do about it," Jones said. "It's what the league has mandated. So just take it and keep playing. It's not up for me to agree with it."

Jones has three flagrant-foul points in the playoffs; one more and he's suspended for a game. * * *



High-fives for Western Finals Lead: Smith now driving force for Nuggets by allowing game to grow

by Benjamin Hochman, Denver Post

J.R. Smith lounged in a chair in the Nuggets' locker room Tuesday, talking golf like he was hanging out at the 19th hole.

Someone asked the Nuggets guard, who's an avid golfer, which he does better — driving a golf ball or driving the lane?

Suddenly, effervescent teammate Sonny Weems chimed in and said: "Neither."

Indeed, Smith doesn't get his uniform dirty too often in the lane, instead lingering on the perimeter, where he shoots 3-pointers early and often. But in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals Monday against the Los Angeles Lakers, Smith's first-half penetration was superb, according to coach George Karl.

Indeed, "J.R.'s passing in the first half is probably what got us cooking," Karl said.

Smith finished the Nuggets' 120-101 victory, which tied the series 2-2, with 24 points and four assists. In the second half, the spacing he created led to his old standby — big 3-pointers. He's "J.R. Swish" after all, not "J.R. Assist."

"He started attacking the rim a lot more, not just settling, getting everybody involved — Chris (Andersen), Nene, Kenyon (Martin)," said teammate and close friend Carmelo Anthony, who was banged up in Game 4 but said he is ready for tonight's Game 5 in Los Angeles. "For (Smith) to do that off the bench, we need that. It opens the court up for everybody else. You've got to keep an eye on him when he comes into the game." * * *



Greed, Jealousy Creep into L.A.'s Locker Room

by Anthony Cotton, Denver Post

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. - During his three years in the NBA, Jordan Farmar admits there are some things about pro basketball — like trying to figure out the method and messages in the madness that is Lakers coach Phil Jackson — that have been hard to figure out.

But there are other things, whether in the NBA or in youth basketball, that should be much easier to decipher.

"We just have to play basketball — it should be so simple," Farmar said. "Everybody should just share the wealth. If we do that, then everybody has more opportunities to be successful, which means that the team will be more successful."

Apparently, on a team that is regarded as NBA royalty, the Lakers are discovering during the 2009 playoffs that some players are more regal than others — and also dealing with the problems that arise when hoi polloi strain to grab a piece of the throne.

After their 120-101 loss Monday to the Nuggets, many Los Angeles players intimated, like Farmar, that the team needs to be a bit more socialistic in its approach to the series. While using general terms like early shots and a lack of ball movement, no one has come out and specifically said where things are breaking down.

Looking strictly at numbers, one would be tempted to point a finger at Kobe Bryant. The king of all things Lakers, Bryant has set a league record with 147 points in the first four games of the series. In doing so, Bryant has taken 98 field-goal attempts; the next Los Angeles player on the list, Pau Gasol, has taken 40 shots.

Monday, Gasol was 8-of-11, scoring 21 points. Center Andrew Bynum made 6-of-7 en route to 14 points. However, Gasol only took four shots in the second half, one more than Bynum.

After the game, both players were clearly frustrated the Lakers didn't exploit their inside game more, but blaming Bryant almost seems laughable. *  *  *

And it has also been Bryant who, more often than not, has been forced to swoop to the rescue. Without his fourth-quarter contributions in Games 1 (18 points) and 3 (12), chances are instead of kvetching about their lot, the Lakers would be eliminated and enjoying a sunny day at the beach. * * *



Nuggets Packing Confidence on Return to Los Angeles

by Chris Dempsey, Denver Post

It used to be, the Nuggets would go to Los Angeles and see stars. We're not talking about the ones in the expensive clothes and courtside seats.

L.A. was a big and bad place. The Nuggets couldn't beat the Lakers there, and both teams knew it. But something funny has happened in this series: The Nuggets are no longer in awe of the venue or the players. Los Angeles now is just another town. The Staples Center is just another arena. The Lakers have become just another team.

The Nuggets won Game 2 in Los Angeles. It was their first postseason win over the Lakers in 11 games, which spanned 24 years. The Nuggets believe they also would have won Game 1 if not for miscues down the stretch. So as the Nuggets await Game 5 in L.A. tonight, they do so without fear.

"Our confidence is sky-high on the road," Carmelo Anthony said. "We feel that we can go in and get Game 5. But we (have to) play the way we know how to play."

For the Nuggets to win this series, they must win in Los Angeles again. But there is no shortage of confidence in the Nuggets' locker room.

"We did what we had to do," Kenyon Martin said. "We bounced back (Monday, winning Game 4) and now we have to regroup and refocus and go to L.A. and try to get a win." * * *



Game 5 is Game 7 (Nuggets/Lakers Game 5 Preview)

by Andrew, Denver

If I was George Karl, I'd write one phrase on the Nuggets locker room white board before Wednesday night's enormously important, biggest-game-ever-in-franchise-history Game 5 at Staples Center:

"Game 5 is Game 7"

(While I'm at it, if I was Karl I'd bring Dahntay Jones back into the game in the second quarter to avoid an Anthony Carter/Chauncey Billups back court, I'd work the refs if they try to whistle the Nuggets out of being aggressive, I'd call timeouts when it's clear my team is chucking too many threes and is losing their composure, and so on, but I digress...)

In order for the Nuggets to survive what's sure to be a n offensive onslaught from Kobe Bryant and (attempted) big time performances from the Lakers "big" men after the national media has labeled them soft, the Nuggets must treat Game 5 like a back-against-the-wall, season-ends-tomorrow Game 7.

I don't care if our Nuggets end up more bruised, banged up and exhausted than they've ever been before, but a gutty Game 5 win redelivers the home court advantage that the Nuggets need to close out the series. The Nuggets players might be miserable come Thursday morning, but they'll feel a hell of a lot better if Friday is a close out game rather than another grueling battle just to win a trip back to Los Angeles.

My biggest concern — and I'm sure the Nuggets biggest concern, as well — is Kobe. The over/under on Kobe versus the Nuggets is 34 points. In the Nuggets two wins, Kobe has averaged 33 points. In the Nuggets two losses, Kobe's average is 40.5. After what transpired in Denver and all the (foolish) talk about Dantay Jones harassing, haggling and (unfortunately) tripping Kobe, Bryant will be hell bent on having a big night. Throw in that he's getting nothing from his teammates and knows his championship window is closing, and I see Kobe gunning for 50.

That doesn't mean he'll get 50 nor does it mean if he gets 50 the Nuggets will automatically lose — of the 25 times Kobe has gone for 50 in his career, he's lost eight times — but it certainly will make the Nuggets cause more difficult. * * *



Mining the Web: Dahntay Jones Edition

by Brian,

Dahntay Jones picked up another flagrant foul for his trip on Kobe Bryant last night after the league reviewed the play. This brings his flagrant foul point total to 3. The immediate suspension starts once a player gets four (2 points for flagrant 2, 1 for flagrant 1).

This trip was shown over and over and over on ESPN because it involved their precious Kobe Bryant, which went on to spur the conversation, "Is Dahntay Jones a dirty player?" Phil Jackson thinks so. So does Andre Iguodala, who said, "dontay jones, dirty??? no waaaaayyyy (sarcasm)...."[sic] on his twitter.

Kobe also used sarcasm to get his point across during his post game interview saying, "I just fell on my face for no reason, I'm a klutz." This isn't the first time in these playoffs Dahntay has been called dirty either. In the first round against the New Orleans Hornets, Byron Scott called him, "a little dirty".

In response to all of these dirty comments Dahntay went on to say, "(I'm) Just playing hard,...I'm sorry. I'm trying to be aggressive and give it all I have out there. My teammates appreciate it."

And appreciate it they do. When Kenyon Martin heard about Phil Jackson's comments regarding Dahntay, Kenyon got a big grin on his face and said, "Hey Tay, you made it, dog, you're a dirty player now. Welcome. It's an elite club being considered one of those." Again, these Nuggets are embracing their role as bad guys and loving every minute of it. * * *



Dahntay Jones' Flagrant 1 Trip of Kobe



Some Comments on Officiating

by Sea Note, The Chris Andersen Files

The combination of incredible players, intriguing rivalries and personalities, amicable (for the most part) payroll rules, and decent marketing has the NBA in great overall shape as a league. Maybe it just feels that way because the Nuggets are doing their thing, but it does seem like more people are interested in the playoffs this year than ever.

But there's one thing that is a big, and worsening problem, and that's the officiating. Rarely a playoff game goes by that the officiating is not a MAJOR topic immediately after the game, with players and coaches on both sides blaming the refs.

I'm not here to complain that the Nuggets have been screwed overall. Not at all. There have been games that have been lopsided in terms of calls in both directions.

The biggest issue is consistency. Consistency from game to game, consistency from crew to crew, and consistency on both ends of the floor. I'll be happy to acknowledge that the players and coaches have made it much tougher on the officials; the ability to draw and demonstrate contact, and physically over-react to contact to force calls (aka flop) is at an all time high.

Admittedly, they're tough calls, even with the benefit of instant replay on TV, it's difficult to say whether a play is a charge vs block (which in my opinion, and Hastings', is the most often blundered and most critical call due to the penalty of loss of posession if a charge is called). When a player violently hits the floor, the gut reaction is to blow the whistle. However if you look at a lot of the charges that get called these days they are a far cry from the "2 steps" that our Dad's taught us in rec league. Instead, the defender just needs to absorb any amount of contact to the chest and fall backward violently, and call is coming their way in most cases. This effect is exaggerated if the same call has been made within the last 3 plays by the other team.

The other thing that's making this situation worse, in the playoffs, is the league's incessant commenting (and changing calls and severity levels) on the officiating after the games. It's absolutely ridiculous. It undermines the decisions and authority of the referees and makes the whole affair look even more like a circus. Particularly the comment about the Melo non-foul against Dallas was absurd, pointless, and damaging to the credibility of the league.

It's also slowing down what would be otherwise thrilling games and turning them into free throw contests, which is not what we paid $200 to see.

Here are my suggestions on how to remedy these issues (for next season): * * *



Not Gonna Bet It But...

posted by "Zeeman" to Nuggets Talk message board

Not gonna bet it, but I f I had to I'd take the Lakers in Game #5. Mentally this is an easy Laker bet. These Nuggets are pretty good, and they still haven't put a game together when most of their players are having a good game.

  • JR — Sucked the 1st 3 games, he is on game #4 and a Nuggets blowout.
  • Chauncey — He has kind of been average most of the series, maybe even below average.
  • Melo — Great in game 1& 2, foul trouble game #3 and sickness game #4 and it showed.
  • Nene — OK in 2 out of 4 games, great in game #4, and sucked another game.
  • Birdman — Awesome at home, sort of invisible on the road.
  • Dahntay Jones — He is messing with Kobe as best he can every game. Not too many defenders challenge Kobe, and he does. 
  • Kmart — Played well all series, except when he thinks he can hit a jumper.

On the flips side, the Lakers haven't played to their potential yet, but some of that has to do with the Nuggets defense

  • Kobe — has been great every game.
  • Gasol — good every game.
  • Ariza — good 2 of 4 games.
  • Fischer — sucks all games.
  • Bynam — good 1 game.
  • Odom — hurt or dissapeared like last year in he finals.

It seems the Nuggets are the better team, yet the Lakers have the best player in the game. Sometimes the best player out-weighs the best team?



Western Conference Finals Game 4 Additional Nuggets

by Jeremy, Roundball Mining Co.

* * *

  • The Lakers shot 15-50 on threes in the two games in Denver. Maybe if Fisher and Vujacic stopped popping threes and started feeding Gasol the ball in the post L.A. would be in better shape after four games.
  • Jeff Van Gundy remarked how surprised he was at J.R.'s vision and passing ability. I think it is great that J.R. is being discovered by many basketball fans. J.R. deserve credit for playing hard enough on defense to earn the minutes he receives on the court and George Karl deserves credit for allowing J.R. the freedom to make mistakes. He will turn the ball over from time to time, but no Nugget can get his teammates easy shots like J.R. can.
  • I think one of the signs of a good team is the ability to hang around even when you are being outplayed. The Nuggets seem to have been the better team in games one, three and four only to have a very difficult time shaking free of L.A. There have been many instances where I have looked at the score and thought to myself, "Denver should be up by at least X, but they are only up Y" with ‘X' being ten to 20 points and ‘Y' four to eight points. * * *



Game 5 preview: Nuggets at Lakers: 3-2 series lead up for grabs tonight in L.A.

by Nate Timmons, Pickaxe and Roll

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".

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. * * *

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. * * *



Keys to Winning Tonight's Game

posted by "CombatChuk" to Pickaxe and Roll

1. Hustle, Hustle, Hustle.

A big part of the success in Game 4 was the elevated effort everyone put in. The trio of Nene, Birdman, and Kenyon combined for 42 out of the 58 rebounds they collected. I read somewhere (I forgot I think it was here) how the rebounding strategy changed for the Nuggets. Instead of going for the actual rebound they just tip it to someone that can easily pick it up, and it worked marvelously!

2. Phil Jackson's Crashball.

Phil Jackson during the game described the Nuggets style of offense as "crashball". I'd prefer the name to be "Nuggets Ball", this type of play is what the Nuggets do best. When we deviate from that and try to be a perimeter jump shot team is when we struggle. *  *  *

3. Better subsitutions.

This is one thing George Karl hasn't done very successfully this series. Chauncey is a beast, but he needs some rest too, so when AC comes in relive Chauncey put him on anyone else than Kobe Bryant. AC is just too short and slow to defend him. He can be effective defending Derek Fisher and Farmar and Brown. George Karl needs to make sure he has at least JR Smith (Or Swish as I like to call him) or Dahntay Jones on Kobe. *  *  *

4. Keep smacking the Lakers around.

This isn't meant to be a hack-a-Laker defense, but a commitment to keep being physical with the Lakers. They're wearing down (Kobe to an extent) and getting beat mentally. *  *  *  The Lakers are soft and it's showing.

I'm anticipating a close game, then again the first two games at the Staples Center have been. But the Lakers are on their heels so they'll bring it, we have to be ready. If we follow these steps the Nuggets will be able to close this series out in the Pepsi Center (In perfect fashion)... *  *  *




posted by "NuggBuckets" to Pickaxe and Roll

* * *
The Lakers always seem to play better after a loss. Laker nation is saying that game 4 and 5 are practically scripted; Lakers don't put out the effort so the Nuggets win game 4 and then the Lakers play up to their true potential which means no one can beat them and they win game 5.

I find that disrespectful. But it's also a great opportunity. Supposedly, this will be the Lakers playing their best ball. If we beat them tonight then not only will we have two chances to win out, but the Lakers will realize that their best just isn't good enough. That would be awful disheartening to the Lake show. Shucks. * * *



2009 Western Conference Finals Game 5: Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Lakers

by Jeremy, Roundball Mining Co.

* * *
Will Carmelo bounce back from two disappointing performances in Denver?

Can Denver continue to overcome the Lakers' size in the lane or will the Lakers repeat their dominance from game one?

Is J.R. Smith about to catch fire and go on one of his incredible hot streaks?

Can Kobe keep carrying the Lakers game after game?

Will L.A. get Pau the ball?

Will Andrew Bynum start playing like he is the biggest dude on the court like he did in the fourth quarter of game four?

What will Dahntay Jones do for his next flagrant foul?

Will we see a game with over 100 free throws attempted?

Will any member of the Lakers' supporting cast have a big game?

Which team will put a strangle hold on this series? * * *


The Bottom Line:

1. Calling this game "big" doesn't do it justice. Nuggets have 2 more chances to win one in LA and this is their best opportunity.

2. Kobe is going to try to run wild in Game 5 and it will be Denver's big task to stop him or at least slow him down.

3. Denver has outplayed LA consistently in this series and is no longer afraid of either the Lakers or their home court.

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