Nuggets look to silence the skeptics in Game 3 versus Lakers
When the Nuggets struggled with injuries and lost 12 of 16 games midway through the season, they were dismissed as a lottery-bound team.
When they went 5-4 during a nine-game homestand, there were questions about whether they could stay afloat in the Western Conference playoff chase.
The Nuggets have a way of responding when doubt is cast their direction.
“If you followed us all year long, every time everybody thought the worst was going to happen, it never happened,” Denver coach George Karl said Thursday. “I believe in them and I trust in them. We’re not this consistent perfect team. We have to do some things to make our motor go, but when it goes, it’s pretty good. I think it’s going to go on Friday night.”
Down 2-0 in their best-of-seven playoff series against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Nuggets return home for Game 3 Friday night.
Denver won six of its final regular-season games at Pepsi Center and is looking to ride the momentum of a second-half rally that came up just short in a four-point loss in Game 2.
“We're back at home, the fans are behind us, we found our game,” Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson said. “Going to get back to our Nuggets basketball.”
After finishing strong in Game 2, Lawson and his teammates will try to get out to a fast start for the first time in the series. Los Angeles led by 13 points after the first quarter of Game 1 and built a nine-point lead in the first 4:09 of Game 2.
As a result, the Lakers have not trailed at any point in the series.
“All the bad games we played throughout the whole year, we didn't play good because of our starts,” Denver forward Danilo Gallinari said. “We definitely have to have a good start, especially at home.”
A quick start is one of many priorities for the Nuggets. With two days to prepare, Karl has put together a list that has been committed to memory and repeated frequently to his players.
“Control the paint better. Be aggressive on (Andrew) Bynum and Kobe (Bryant’s) touches. Run,” Karl said. “Pass the ball more freely. Get a crowd, a crazy crowd. Enthusiasm. Energy. Hit ‘em first.”
Bryant and Bynum have put up big numbers in the first two games of the series, averaging 34.5 and 18.5 points, respectively, but Lakers power forward Pau Gasol quietly has made a significant impact with his playmaking ability.
Gasol has handed out a team-leading 13 assists, including several to Bynum from the high-post.
“There are not many 7-foot playmakers in the game of basketball. He’s a playmaker,” Karl said. “He’s Andre Miller-like from the standpoint that he doesn’t just get assists – he gets dunks. And dunks are more powerful than just a jump shot going in from 18 feet.
“The guy who makes it all work is not Kobe Bryant and Bynum, it’s Gasol. The stats are good but they’re not knocking you off your feet. The numbers say Bynum and Kobe are killing us. I might vote for saying, get Gasol off the court.”
The Nuggets have been successful countering L.A.’s size with speed by scoring 49 fast-break points in the first two games. They still need to shore up their defensive rebounding and make a point of valuing every possession.
“We’ve got to rebound and run, don't let them get a lot of offensive rebounds and second-chance points,” Lawson said ”That's where they've beaten us the whole series. I feel like if we do that, we're going to change the series.”
Gallinari shared Lawson’s optimism.
“It's a good confidence level,” he said. “We knew it could (be) a good series. We're going to make it a great series.”
The Nuggets certainly need to play with a blend of confidence and urgency as the series shifts to the high altitude.
No team in NBA history has come back to win a series after trailing 3-0.
“We don’t want to fight history,” Karl said. “We want to get a win Friday night and not fight history.”