Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets Game 6 Preview

May 10, 2012

Before Game 5, the Lakers had figured their next flight out of Los Angeles would be to Oklahoma City. The Thunder already had their series wrapped up, and Andrew Bynum felt like the Lakers did too.

“Close out games are actually kind of easy,” Bynum stated to reporters. “Teams tend to fold when you come out and play hard early.”

It was an immature comment to say in public, and provided unnecessary motivation for the Nuggets.

But it wasn’t crazy. Closeout games, especially in the first round, often result in the inferior team giving up after a certain point. 

LA simply forgot to fulfill their end of the deal: Play hard.

As a result, the Nuggets took full advantage. They outhustled LA from the start and made it seem like they were the team looking to close the series. Even a barrage of Kobe three-pointers late in the game couldn’t wipe away an otherwise inexcusably bad performance by the purple and gold.

After failing to launch Tuesday night, the Lakers flew back to Denver for Game 6 Thursday night. In choosing not to play, LA has allowed Denver to keep playing.

If the Lakers want to get this round over with Thursday night, they’re going to need  the kind of collective effort that got them their last win in Denver. In Game 4, six Lakers scored in double figures and everyone contributed crucial baskets down the stretch.

In Game 5, it was a completely different story. LA deferred to Kobe way too often throughout the game, seemingly looking for him to bail them out of disorganized possessions time and time again. Kobe was forced to shoot 32 times -- a figure that almost always means the offense isn’t functioning.

Meanwhile, Denver’s success will depend on its defense Thursday night, as it has all series long. Javale McGee has been the difference maker for Denver this series, as his two best games were both wins, and not by coincidence.

McGee's length and size, when effectively used, have been able to disrupt Andrew Bynum’s interior offensive game and counteract the Lakers overall frontcourt advantage. Meanwhile, his unique ability to finish over just about anyone around the rim has given Denver much needed easy baskets and second chance points.

As far as offense goes, the Nuggets know they can score if they can lure their opponents into taking long shots and playing uptempo. It worked in Game 5, as the Lakers took 24 three pointers -- far too many for a team with two of the best bigs in the game.

Lakers fans can perhaps take comfort in the fact the Lakers have inexplicably extended playoff series in years past, before eventually moving on and winning the Finals. But those teams were simply arrogant and lazy, and knew that they had a switch they could flip at any moment.
This team is different. They haven’t proven anything yet. They don’t have a switch. What they showed in Game 5 wasn’t laziness, but instead was a team still finding its way.

In a playoff series, all you can ask of your team is to win one road game. But two? That’s a tall order, especially against a young team like Denver who thrives on the energy of its crowd.

With not only the altitude in Denver, but also fatigue now becoming a possible problem for Kobe and Pau’s aging legs, the Lakers are looking at a possible Game 7 at Staples Center.

And they haven’t even played Oklahoma City or San Antonio yet.

By Max Rucker
Contributing Writer for The Daily Sports Herald

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