Lakers dominate, on to the Finals

Every so often, a good team will have a game where things don’t just bounce the right way. Usually, this happens on the offensive end of the court. The team seems to press; they’re working hard, but the shots are rattling out, the passes aren’t getting through and the rebounds are bouncing just out of reach. Everything’s a struggle, and nothing comes easy. It can be quite frustrating.

This was one of those nights for the Denver Nuggets. They just didn’t have it.

Championship-caliber teams are able to offset these types of games by playing great defense. While the Nuggets are improved on that end of the court, they still don’t focus and execute on every possession defensively. The Lakers shot 57% from the field, and while Kobe Bryant led the way with 35 points (along with 10 assists), Pau Gasol, Trevor Ariza, Luke Walton and Lamar Odom combined to shoot 27 for 40 from the field (68%). From the Nuggets point of view, it’s inexcusable to allow that kind of shooting in an elimination game.

Conversely, Carmelo Anthony and Chauncey Billups combined to shoot 8 for 24 from the field (33%). The Lakers didn’t have a great series defensively, but they did a nice job tonight of making things tough on the Nuggets. They recognized their opponent was pressing and they never allowed Denver to get in synch.

The Nuggets had a nice season, and they have something to build on. Had they executed better at certain points earlier in the series, they would have been in a position to close out of the Lakers tonight instead of being closed out themselves. What’s worrisome is the lack of intensity and focus that Denver showed tonight. To lose by 27 in a Game 6 on your home court is nothing short of embarrassing. But sometimes when the game gets out of hand and it’s clear that the season is about to be over, the wheels come off. And they most definitely came off tonight.

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NBA officials out of control? Not so much.

John Hollinger writes that the uptick in free throws this postseason is nothing new.

This phenomenon has gone on since prehistoric times as clubs enforce the no-layups policy with greater zeal, and garbage-time situations become fewer and farther between. These playoffs’ free-throw rates have increased over the regular-season rates similar to past seasons’ rates, even though high-foul teams are overrepresented this time around.

Denver led the NBA in free-throw attempts per field goal attempt this season by a wide margin.

Orlando averaged .351, good for third in the league, with center Dwight Howard leading the league in free-throw attempts.

Sum it up, and that’s six conference finals games with an above-average number of fouls, but we also have a far greater sampling of 67 games from the first two rounds of the playoffs. And in those two rounds, we had no deviation from the historic trend whatsoever. The only noteworthy development is a phenomenal increase in the frequency of technical fouls, with 1½ being called a game in this postseason, compared to less than one per night just here years ago.

But as far as live-ball action goes, the evidence for the “refs gone wild” theory is skimpy at best. Basically, we’re getting all bent out of shape over a six-game sample when a sample of 10 times as many games shows the opposite conclusion.

The bottom line is that teams and players don’t care if the refs call it close or loose, they just want consistency throughout the game. Officials can’t “let guys play” in the first quarter and then start calling ticky-tack fouls late in the game. The players adjust based on how the game is being called early on, but if that changes throughout the course of the game, all hell breaks loose.

23-5 run keys Laker win in Game 5

The Denver Nuggets were in position to win Game 5. They were up 71-64 with 6:31 to play in the third quarter and they had the Lakers on their heels. If they had shown patience and executed, they could have pushed the lead to double digits or at least have a modest lead going into the fourth quarter. But the Lakers tightened up their defense, and the Nuggets committed four straight turnovers late in the third to let L.A. back into the game.

The Nuggets were stuck on 76 from the 2:25 mark in the third quarter until the 7:52 mark in the fourth. That’s almost six and a half minutes without scoring a single point. The Lakers deserve some credit for playing pretty good defense, but the Nuggets were sloppy with the ball and took a ton of bad shots.

Lamar Odom finally showed up. He posted 19 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks and three assists, and was the single biggest reason that the Lakers won this game. I grow tired of hearing how talented of a player he is and then watch as he misses bunny after bunny at close range. Shannon Brown also played well of the Laker bench. He and Odom were on the floor when L.A. made its run.

The series moves back to Denver for Game 6, and the pressure is squarely on the Nuggets, as they face elimination.

Gasol wants the ball

Pau Gasol can’t understand why the Lakers aren’t utilizing their advantage inside to better effect.

“I wish we would take more advantage of our height and the inside game, because it’s pretty effective. It’s unfortunate that we don’t recognize it enough,” Gasol said, according to the Daily News.

“It’s frustrating because we lose games,” Gasol said, according to the report. “I don’t mind when we win, because the bottom line is, I want to win. But I feel like we have an advantage, and I’m effective, we should stay with what works and what’s effective and not get away from it. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Gasol is shooting almost 63% in the series and should be getting the ball more. The Nuggets have been reluctant to double team, so if the Lakers start feeding him the ball and let him go to work, it will force Denver to adjust (or let him score efficiently). Derek Fisher has been awful from the perimeter, and Lamar Odom isn’t bringing much to the table, so the Lakers might as well go with what’s been working. After all, he is their second-best player.

Nuggets outmuscle Lakers to even series

Typically, an NBA team can expect to score one point per possession (or thereabouts) over a course of a game. So when one team outrebounds another on the offensive glass by a margin of 20-9, it’s really 11 extra possessions and 11 extra opportunities to score. That’s why the Nuggets were able to bounce back tonight from a tough loss in Game 3; they dominated the glass by a margin of 58-40, and went on to win 120-101.

The win is even more impressive considering the struggles of Carmelo Anthony, who went 3 of 16 from the field. Chauncey Billups picked up the slack, and had key back-to-back buckets when the Nuggets were nursing a nine-point lead early in the fourth quarter. He drove to the hole and got the “and one,” and then on the Nuggets’ next possession, he brought the ball up and drained a three. Billups was one of seven Nuggets to score in double figures; J.R. Smith deserves mention for his 24 points and four assists off the bench.

Kobe Bryant posted 34 points on 10 of 26 shooting (39%). Pau Gasol added 21 points and 10 boards, and Andrew Bynum had 14 points and five boards, but Phil Jackson isn’t getting much production from the rest of the roster. Two vets that the Lakers are counting on — Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher — combined to shoot 3 of 15 for 10 points.

The series moves back to L.A. for Game 5 and if the Nuggets can avoid the mental errors in crunch time, they have a good shot to win this series. The Lakers are inconsistent and out of synch, and they really need that supporting cast to raise its game.

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