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Scott Howard-Cooper

Arron Afflalo, Steve Blake
Arron Afflalo (shooting) and the Nuggets beat L.A. (and Steve Blake) Tuesday to force Game 6.
Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Nuggets hope return to Denver (gasp!) is a gasser for L.A.


Posted May 9 2012 10:22AM

LOS ANGELES -- The Lakers' charter leaves today for another plane ride to another game at altitude in another city that the Lakers had hoped to be done with for the season.

Denver. Not Los Angeles for what would have been a couple days of well-deserved downtime after dispatching the plucky Nuggets in five games. Not Oklahoma City, at least not until they finally rid themselves of Denver and get to the Western Conference semifinals.

Denver.

The Nuggets' perspective is that the first round just took a big turn in their favor after their 102-99 victory Tuesday night at Staples Center that cut their deficit to 3-2 in the best-of-seven series. Game 6 is scheduled for Thursday night.

Nuggets coach George Karl revealed part of his strategy for Game 6, and maybe beyond, at the postgame podium as stunned Lakers fans dragged into the downtown night trying to figure out what happened to being in control at 2-0: "My hope -- I don't know if this is true or not -- is fatigue will come our way and the rhythm of the game and tempo of the game and the pace the way we play. They're getting tired of hearing it and you're probably getting tired of hearing it: Our only chance to beat 'em is run 'em and play with a tremendous energy and intensity."

The Lakers are being held captive in the series longer than they would have imagined after winning three of four in the regular season and the first two of the playoffs. They are being forced to expend energy better saved for the bouncy Thunder in the next round.

The calendar has quickly turned against the Lakers. It's possible that they may have to go straight from Denver to Oklahoma City if this series ends Thursday night in Denver, what would eventually be a stretch of five of six on the road. The last thing L.A. needed was an extended first-round series against the Nuggets.

And there's the whole altitude thing in Denver. Andrew Bynum cited it as one of the reasons for his no-show of a first half in Game 3, the Nuggets' victory that gave them confidence that something more than just staying in close pursuit of the Lakers was possible. Now L.A. has to go back knowing another loss would force a treacherous Game 7 on Saturday at Staples Center.

Of course the Nuggets love how this is playing out.

"I don't know how you can be tired during this time of the year," Lakers coach Mike Brown said, shrugging off Karl's suggestion. "I don't care where you play. I just don't know how you can be tired. You've got to obviously come to play. It doesn't matter if we play on top of Pike's Peak. If we're tired at this point of the season then we don't deserve to win. It's nice for him to say, but I don't believe it."

Karl does know gamesmanship, as when he noted the number of illegal defenses that were not called in Game 1. Bynum was unfairly allowed, the coach noted, to roam the paint while blocking 10 shots. Brown knows his counterpart was just going through the media to get in the ear of future Nuggets-Lakers referees. Same thing here, only Karl wants to plant an idea with the opponents, not the refs.

"I don't think they're going to wear out," Nuggets guard Arron Afflalo said after contributing 19 points, five rebounds and three steals Tuesday in his hometown to help turn back a furious late rally by the Lakers. "But the idea is just to keep the pressure on and keep competing. They're going to come in there trying to win. This is not a just-get-it-back-to-L.A. game for them. That game's going to be a hard-fought game. They beat us on our home floor before. We understand that."

Just being in this position is a good measure of success for Denver. Now the Nuggets get a chance to really squeeze the Lakers.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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