Balanced Nuggets look to finish series comeback vs. Lakers
LOS ANGELES – Yes, Virginia, the Denver Nuggets do have star players.
Their names just change every night.
In Denver’s Game 5 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, veteran Andre Miller and young center JaVale McGee shared the spotlight.
Two nights later, point guard Ty Lawson and rookie forward Kenneth Faried stood out as the Nuggets avoided elimination once again.
Who will it be Saturday night in Game 7?
Danilo Gallinari? Arron Afflalo? Al Harrington?
Denver’s biggest weapon might be the fact that it could be anyone – and none will complain if it doesn’t happen to be him.
“We have eight to 10 20-to-25 minute players fighting for minutes every night, but their egos aren’t fighting right now,” Nuggets coach George Karl said. “It is a blessing and a compliment to them to stay unified.
“The trust, the belief, the commitment, the unification of talent and ‘team’ is what everybody is experimenting with.”
Despite a roster overhaul in the past 15 months, the Nuggets have established a genuine camaraderie in the locker room and on the court.
McGee, the most recent addition, is enjoying his first playoff experience and was as happy after scoring two points in Game 6 as he was after scoring 21 points in Game 5.
“It’s definitely amazing because if I have a good game, they have to make a scouting report for me,” McGee said. “If Manimal (Faried) has a good game, they have to make a scouting report for him … I’m extremely excited.”
As Game 7 looms, the scouting reports are simply to reinforce what the Nuggets and Lakers already know about each other. Denver wants to rebound, attack the rim and run; Los Angeles wants to play physical, pound the ball inside and control the tempo.
The outcome will come down to effort and execution.
“We’re looking forward to this Game 7,” Gallinari said. “That’s going to be fun. That’s what we live for. We did a great job (winning two games in a row) and we’re not stopping now.”
Like the rest of his teammates, Gallinari has never played in a Game 7. Karl, on the other hand, will coach in a Game 7 for the seventh time. He is 3-3, with his most recent appearance coming with the Milwaukee Bucks in 2001.
“I’m nervous already,” Karl said Friday before his team flew to Los Angeles. “I’m 61 years old and I haven’t been nervous this early in a long time. I think it’s a good thing. Come game time, you’re going to have a strategy, and I think the coaches are ready.”
Karl and his staff will have a new wrinkle to dissect as Lakers forward Metta World Peace returns from a seven-game suspension for elbowing Oklahoma City Thunder swingman James Harden.
Lakers coach Mike Brown said World Peace will replace Devin Ebanks in the starting lineup at Staples Center, giving Los Angeles a set of fresh legs and 13 years of NBA experience.
“I expect him to come out and play with that tenacity he’s known for,” Los Angeles guard Kobe Bryant said. “He’s the one guy I can rely on night in and night out. He plays hard and he plays with a sense of urgency and with no fear, so I’m looking forward to having him by my side again.”
The Nuggets certainly will be cognizant of World Peace, but they don’t plan to alter their philosophy based on his presence.
“You don’t want to overreact to that, but I have a feeling he’s going to play a lot of minutes,” Karl said. “They’re going to try to power us and bully us and pound us and beat us up in the paint.”
By winning back-to-back elimination games, Denver has proven its ability to push back. The final – and most difficult – test will come Saturday night.
“I think we’re wearing them down as a team,” Faried said. “As long as we keep running and get easy baskets, they’re going to get tired. We’ve got to do it in Game 7, or else all this is for nothing.”