Maybe J.R. Smith had a point when he tweeted in late February, "Dont get me wrong kobe is great but not when he play me." Against the Nuggets last night, Bryant went 3 for 17 for 14 points. But J.R. Smith couldn't do much trash talking after the game since he hit just 3 of 12 for 7 points and the Lakers won the game, 95-89.
The Lakers have been on top of the Western Conference pretty much all season but they had yet to beat the Nuggets. They were 0-2 and wanted to prove that they are in fact the best team in their conference. They certainly didn't look like the best team in the first half.
The Lakers were careless with the ball as the Nuggets scored 20 points off of 14 Laker turnovers. The worst of which was at the end of the first quarter when Lamar Odom bobbled the ball out of bounds on a clear path dunk.
Pau Gasol was settling for jumpers and was furthering the Lakers reputation as a soft team. The Nuggets were the aggressive ones and were taking it to the rim. Laker fans might point to the free throw disparity as a sign of bad officiating but it was just because the Nuggets were attacking and the Lakers weren't. The Nuggets attempted 23 free throws to just four for the LA in the first half.
The Nuggets were following the game plan to beat the Lakers. They were being the more physical team and they were scoring in transition. They were getting easy buckets before the defense could set and it propelled them to a nine-point halftime lead, 52-43.
The lead expanded to 64-53 about midway through the third quarter
before the Lakers began to show signs of life. That's when they Lakers
went on a 29-10 run to seize control of the game.
The surge was led by Lamar Odom on offense and Ron Artest on defense. Odom matched the physical play of the Nuggets and is a complete mismatch for them. Odom had 14 of his 20 points in the last 16 minutes of play. The Lakers were at their best with Odom on the floor and might want to keep that in mind if these two teams meet again in the playoffs. He can push the pace on offense, unlike when they have both Andrew Bynum and Gasol in the lineup.
But the difference maker for the Lakers was Ron Artest. He had the exact type of performance they need from him in the playoffs. Artest had 16 points including 4 of 7 from three-point range but he was brought in for his defense and that's where he shined. His assignment was to lock down the second-leading scorer in the NBA, Carmelo Anthony. If Artest could guard Anthony one-on-one then the other Lakers couldn't concentrate on their guys and not give up wide open shots. Carmelo hit just 7 of 19 shots for 21 points, eight points below his average and many of those points were when Artest wasn't guarding him. Artest had six of the Lakers 16 steals and forced Anthony to turn the ball over a season-high eight times.
With the Nuggets down 93-89 with just over two minutes remaining, Anthony picked up his sixth foul on offense with Artest all over him. The call was iffy at best but it shows how frustrated Artest was making Carmelo.The Lakers increased their lead to five and a half games in the West with 22 games remaining. They are now just a game behind the Cavaliers for the best record in the NBA.