Nuggets look to erase memory and mistakes of L.A. opener
Road split still the goal as Denver faces the Lakers in Game 2
LOS ANGELES – Doug Moe is four years removed from sitting next to George Karl on the bench as a Nuggets assistant coach.
His philosophies and words of wisdom still endure, however.
After watching his team trail by as many as 21 points in a series-opening loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, Karl could almost hear his friend’s unmistakable Brooklyn accent.
“I’ve always remembered Doug Moe saying it’s easy to forget a game that you’re never in,” Karl said before putting his team through practice Monday. “It’s harder to forget a game that you almost should’ve won.”
The Nuggets will get an opportunity to erase the mistakes and bad memories of their playoff opener when they return to Staples Center for Game 2 against the Lakers on Tuesday night.
From the pace of play to the intensity level at both ends of the floor, Los Angeles controlled nearly every aspect of Game 1. After a productive film session and a 90-minute practice, the Nuggets were confident in gaining a split before the series shifts back to Denver.
“You don’t want to give up exactly what we’re exploiting but we definitely found some things today on film,” Nuggets center JaVale McGee said.
“Things can definitely change. They have some great players, but we also have a good squad. As long as we go out there and play our game, we should be fine.”
Along with Kenneth Faried, Jordan Hamilton, Timofey Mozgov and Julyan Stone, McGee was one of five Nuggets who made their postseason debuts in Game 1. McGee, who never came close to reaching the playoffs in three seasons with the Washington Wizards, admitted to having some “first playoff game jitters.”
“It was definitely a different experience for some guys and we were playing out of character,” he said. “It was really intense, really exciting. I’m just ready for the next one.”
In an effort to rev up the running game and wear down Lakers 7-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, Karl said he plans to rotate McGee and fellow big men Faried, Mozgov and Kosta Koufos more often in Game 2.
Karl also wants his team to be more physical when forced to run its half-court offense. Denver’s big men frequently “slip” the screen and roll to the basket early, but they will be asked to hold their ground more often as the series moves forward.
“I think the biggest weakness of our offense is that we didn’t screen well enough,” Karl said. “We’re not a big execution team, but when we do run plays, we’ve got to hit some bodies.”
The Nuggets also need their bigs to space the floor and draw Bynum away from paint. In the opener, he often set up camp in the lane and waited for Denver to attack the rim. As a result, he tied an NBA playoff record with 10 blocked shots.
“He posts there like a tree,” Faried said. “That’s how he got his 10 blocks – our mistakes. We need to get outside the paint more, so he has to move with us and stay connected.”
Setting good picks and drawing Bynum and Gasol away from the hoop are critical to giving point guard Ty Lawson some freedom to work. After a tough start, Lawson scored seven points in the second half and is eager to get back on track Tuesday.
“Every game I put responsibility on myself,” he said. “I don’t think my fortune’s changed at all. It’s one game. Everybody’s putting an emphasis on one game. It’s a seven-game series.”
Whether it meant winning Game 1 or Game 2, the Nuggets came to Southern California seeking a split. That goal remains possible.
“I think we’re aware of how poorly we played,” Karl said. “We’re also aware that we’re playing a great team and we have to play at a high level in order to be successful. They threw the first punch. Now it’s our turn to react.”