Size prevails over speed as Lakers overpower Nuggets
The plan was to uproot the trees.
If the Nuggets could make 7-footers Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol and their 6-10 partner in crime Lamar Odom run up and down the court, there was a good chance the Los Angeles Lakers would run out of gas.
In the end, the trees prevailed.
With a sellout crowd creating a playoff atmosphere at the Pepsi Center, the Lakers’ size proved to be too much for Denver’s speed as they dominated the paint and controlled the tempo in a 107-97 win over the Nuggets on Friday night.
“Offensively, there was no pace,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “Their strength is their size. We didn’t take that away. Our strength is our speed and we didn’t commit to putting that in the game as much as we should have. … Size versus speed, size won tonight.”
Gasol and Ron Artest scored 19 points each, while Kobe Bryant and Odom added 18 points apiece to help the Lakers win in Denver for the first time since Nov. 1, 2008.
Arron Afflalo was the main bright spot for the Nuggets (24-18), making 5-of-7 three-pointers and finishing with 22 points. He ended shootaround Friday morning by hitting 40 of 50 shots from beyond the arc.
“I’m falling in love with Arron’s game more and more each time I see him play,” teammate Carmelo Anthony said. “The work he puts in at practice and after practice is paying off for him.”
Afflalo scored 16 points in the first half to help the Nuggets take a 52-49 lead into the break, but took only three shots in the third and fourth quarters.
“We have to remember that when he’s hot, he’s as good of a shooter as we have on our team and definitely one of the better shooters in the league,” Karl said. “We’ve got to go out of way to find him when he’s in the rhythm he was in tonight and we didn’t do a very good job of that.”
The reverse was true at the other end of the floor as Bryant scored four points in the first half before exploding for 14 points on 6-of-10 shooting as the Lakers outscored Denver 33-20 in the decisive third quarter.
“I feel a little responsible because I kind of let him get away in the third quarter,” Afflalo said of trying to contain Bryant. “There’s a lot of factors that go into wins and losses, but at the same time, when he got going it kind of changed the dynamic of the game. That’s the thing that kind of bothers me right now.”
Afflalo could hardly be blamed for Los Angeles’ interior advantage. Gasol’s putback at the buzzer gave Los Angeles a 10-point lead heading to the fourth, and the Nuggets never got closer than nine in the game’s final 9:31.
“We were focused, but they came to play,” Denver guard Ty Lawson said. “I don’t want to say they punked us, but they used their height today.”
The Nuggets finished with just four fast-break points and a season-low 27 rebounds, while the Lakers grabbed 47 boards. It was the largest rebounding deficit for the Nuggets at home since Nov. 1, 2001.
“They just dominated us in the paint,” Nuggets point guard Chauncey Billups said. “You expect they’re going to make shots. They’ve got great players. It’s extra-effort plays, offensive rebounds. Those are the plays that really beat you.”
Denver lost for just the fifth time in 24 home games and will wrap up a three-game homestand Sunday against the Indiana Pacers.
Despite season-long trade speculation and various injuries to key players, the Nuggets are still in position to make a playoff push over the next 12 weeks.
“I’ve always felt this team, if it’s healthy and stays strong and has a substantial amount of time to progress and come together, we can be as good of a team we’ve ever had here,” Karl said. “I said that at the beginning of the year and I say that now.”
The Nuggets are hoping to get reserve big man Chris Andersen back as early as Sunday. Andersen hasn’t played since Jan. 11 as he tries to regain strength in his lower back and surgically repaired right knee.
After Friday's game, Birdman would be a welcome sight in the paint.