Facing elimination, Nuggets look to rise up in Los Angeles
LOS ANGELES – On the eve of playing the first elimination game of his NBA career, Nuggets rookie Kenneth Faried could draw inspiration from the first elimination game of his college career.
Those who know anything about Faried know how he led Morehead State to an upset of heavily favored Louisville in the 2011 NCAA Tournament. He and the Nuggets now face a win-or-go-home scenario against the heavily favored Los Angeles Lakers.
“It’s basically Morehead-Louisville all over again,” Faried said Monday. “We’ve got to come out, make the little plays and see if we can get the W.”
Trailing 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, the Nuggets need three Ws in three games, starting with Game 5 Tuesday night in Los Angeles. Eight teams in NBA history have accomplished the feat, with the most recent being the Phoenix Suns against the Lakers in 2006.
Nuggets forward Al Harrington was in attendance for one of those historic Phoenix victories six years ago.
“I definitely think we have a chance,” Harrington said. “Anything is possible. If we get Game 5, I definitely don’t think the Lakers want to come back here to play Game 6 … and hopefully we can make it a seven-game series.”
The details from player to player vary, but at some point in their basketball lives, Harrington and his teammates have been here before.
For Faried and fellow rookies Jordan Hamilton and Julyan Stone, it was in college. For Harrington, Arron Afflalo, Chris Andersen, Ty Lawson, Kosta Koufos and Timofey Mozgov, it was with Denver last year in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs.
For all of them, it was probably at a park or neighborhood rec center.
“Just like being on the playground – if you lose, you’re going to be out for a long time,” coach George Karl said. “Just take Tuesday and win that one, and then we’ll take Thursday and win that one and see what happens on Saturday.”
Before boarding their flight to Los Angeles, the Nuggets analyzed footage from Sunday’s 92-88 loss in Game 4. Denver played well defensively, forcing 14 turnovers and limiting the Lakers to 45.3 percent shooting, but L.A. grabbed 19 offensive rebounds that led to a 28-18 edge in second-chance points.
“Playoff basketball is a lot of should and could’ve,” Karl said. “We should’ve won that game in a lot of ways, but we got beat by a good team. If I could fix one thing in Game 5, it would be that we win the rebounding game and not them.”
With 7-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol patrolling the paint and 6-10 reserve Jordan Hill providing more rebounding support off the bench, the Lakers have tried to impose their will in the first four games.
Shooting guard Kobe Bryant also rebounds well for his position, meaning the board game must be a collective effort for the Nuggets.
“It’s a total team commitment,” Karl said. “The bigs are battling sometimes and the guards don’t help. Sometimes the guards are helping and the bigs aren’t battling. If we continue to give them 15 to 20 points on the boards, it’s going to be difficult to score enough points to beat them.”
After Game 4, Karl said his team’s “initial defensive presentation was probably as good as we’ve played all year” against Los Angeles. They will need a similar effort on Tuesday night as the Lakers try to close out the series.
“We forced them into tough shots (in Game 4),” Harrington said. “We just have to find a way to finish off defensive stops with rebounds.”
The Nuggets also plan to continue pushing the pace and attacking the paint in their half-court sets.
Denver averaged a league-leading 26.7 free-throw attempts per game during the regular-season but has shot 21 per game against the Lakers. The 12 attempts in Game 4 were the fewest the Nuggets had taken in a playoff game in six years.
“Our guards, we’re just going to keep attacking and doing what we believe in,” Karl said. “We’re going to go down there and drive the ball to the rim. Right now, I don’t think we can change.”
Afflalo is an important part of that penetrate-and-pass style but he has the difficult task of trying to produce offensively while chasing 13-time All-Star Bryant defensively.
After averaging a career-high 15.2 points during the regular-season, Afflalo is averaging nine through four playoff games.
As is the case so often in the playoffs, redemption is only a day away for the Los Angeles native.
“It’s almost like a boxing match,” Afflalo said. “You can start (the) speculation and say it’s over, but you’ve still got to get out there and finish it out.”