DENVER -- Eighteen games into the playoffs, at the point where results matter more than style, the Lakers finally managed to combine the two.
At this late stage it doesn't really matter how the Lakers got to the NBA Finals; it would be enough to say they're playing in the championship round in back-to-back seasons and the 30th time in franchise history. Yet they chose to arrive in grand fashion, rolling in the Maybach. This was their most complete team effort of the postseason, a 119-92 road victory to close out what had been a formidable Denver team, making the blown leads against Utah and the blowout losses to a depleted Houston team seem like distant memories.
"We finally played a full 48 together, and in one of the biggest games of our year," said Luke Walton.
"We're here now. People are going to say whatever they're going to say, but we're in the NBA Finals and we went through a very tough Western Conference again. We're back to where we wanted go get and at this time we're playing at probably the highest level we've played all year. So that's what you want to do."
Yeah, I'm as surprised as you are that Luke Walton is the first Laker quoted. But he had his breakout game of the playoffs (10 points) in Game 6 and outscored Carmelo Anthony, 6-5, in the third quarter, including a dunk over the Melo Man. Like I said, complete team effort. The bench, outscored 42-24 by Denver's reserves in their last trip here, returned the favor with a 40-34 advantage Saturday night.
(Phil Jackson) Trusting in Ariza
Every now and again in football, someone will hit an insanely long field goal.
When they do, everyone says: "Amazing kick!"
David Thorpe says: "Amazing coaching decision!"
Sending a kicker out to attempt a kick that may well turn out to be a turnover is a bold thing -- and an incredible expression of confidence in the player.
Most coaches in most sports consider it their business to ask players to do things they are known to do well. That's great, unless you are in the business of encouraging players to expand their games. If players are to develop, sometimes you have to ask them to do things you're not sure they can do.
Asking him to kick a record-setting field goal is a great way to get the best out of that kicker. What better way to make him feel he's the best in the world?
Thorpe and I have talked about this kind of coaching a number of times. Once was about three months ago, when he pointed out, as an example, that Phil Jackson was being a little bold in letting Trevor Ariza shoot 3s.
By any measure, Trevor Ariza is not a 3-point shooter. Before this season, no kidding, Ariza had hit a total of eight 3-pointers since joining the league in 2004.
There are half-minutes of practice when Kobe Bryant has hit more 3-pointers than that.
Ariza's career 3-point percentage is sub-30%.
Remember, of course, that before the season, the Lakers were everybody's pick to win the West, and most people's pick to win the title. They had a lot on the line in every regular season game. Every time Ariza let a long ball fly, the team was passing up opportunities for more polished scorers like Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol or Andrew Bynum.
Nevertheless, Phil Jackson gave Ariza a green light, expressing confidence in him as a 3-point shooter.
Kobe Bryant's Double Vision
In Game 5, the Lakers cracked the code on the offensive end. They discovered that the Nuggets were giving them swaths of open space in the halfcourt, much of it the result of double-teams. The Lakers' offense is predicated on spacing and movement, and Denver's pressure had the unintended consequence of opening up the floor. Here's Bryant describing the dynamic Wednesday night:
Time To Celebrate
I thought George Karl said something very telling in his post game press conference.
He said that at the start of the series and through the first few games he saw the cracks in the Lakers, the places to attack and exploit, but by the end they had sealed those up and become a better team. That is what we didn’t see from the Lakers last year, when they ran into a team that could really exploit those cracks, they could not seal them up in the finals.
Lakers play like champs in eliminating Nuggets
DENVER - Bloodhounds were dispatched. Sherlock Holmes cut short his vacation to solve this mystery.
What happened in the playoffs to the Los Angeles Lakers, who dominated the Western Conference all season to the tune of a 65-17 record?
Alas, the case of the lackadaisical Lakers might just have been solved.
Elementary, Watson. Or at least Walton. The 6-foot-8 forward did play a gritty role Friday night.
The Lakers, so uneven during the postseason, put together an impressive 119-92 wipeout of the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center to win the West final 4-2 and advance to the NBA Finals.
"We really think that this is the team that we've seen most of the year, the team that played (Friday),'' said coach Phil Jackson, whose Lakers will face either Cleveland or Orlando to begin the Finals next Thursday.
In an arena known as "The Can," the Lakers played kick the can. They moved out to a 53-40 halftime lead and spent the rest of the night extending it.
When it was over, all Nuggets coach George Karl could do was heap praise upon the visitors. He got spiritual when it came to Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who scored a game-high 35 points while also finding time to hand out 10 assists.
"I think Jesus would have had trouble covering him," Karl said.
Kobe, Lakers advance with best performance of playoffs
DENVER -- There will be no Game 7 in the Western Conference Finals because Kobe Bryant decided he'd had enough. Enough of Nuggets defenders poking him in the midsection as he elevated from the perimeter and slapping his forehead as he released his shots. Enough of Dahntay Jones, J.R. Smith, Linas Kleiza and Chauncey Billups bumping him like he was a running back hitting the hole and not a shooting guard looking for a seam. Enough of a city and a town that brings back too many bad memories. Enough of all of it. It was time to go home.
"It was a very controlled, excellent game from him," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, a few minutes after Bryant scored 35 points in L.A.'s 119-92 rout of the Nuggets.
And it wasn't just Bryant who looked like he was through with Denver. It was Lamar Odom, who before the game added flu symptoms to his growing list of injuries. Prior to the game Odom's locker looked like a veritable pharmacy, with a bottle of cough syrup and a packet of throat lozenges within arms reach, his ammunition to stave off a rapidly developing virus. Yet it was the Nuggets who were left feeling ill after Odom chipped in 20 points and eight rebounds, including a pair of run-stopping buckets.
"Whoever awoke Lamar Odom," said Nuggets coach George Karl, "should be fired."
Lakers close out Denver, head to NBA Finals
DENVER A giddy Andrew Bynum walked out of the locker room afterward actually wearing the Western Conference championship cap and matching T-shirt he hadd just earned … the expensive polo shirt he hadd worn to the game balled up in his hand.
Derek Fisher stood with his tie knotted in place and spoke solemnly of finally securing the right to avenge the NBA Finals loss last year: "Now it's here, but there's no satisfaction."
From the youngest to the oldest, the Lakers got their jobs done Friday night in a resounding Game 6 victory over the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals, 119-92.
It was committed team defense and seamless team offense, most of it orchestrated by Kobe Bryant, who had 35 points, 10 assists, six rebounds and one turnover.
It produced a feeling of dominance for which the Lakers had been searching all postseason. It's a feeling the Lakers can carry into the NBA Finals, which begin Thursday at Staples Center against Orlando or in Cleveland.
"We want Orlando," Bynum said, acknowledging the Magic's 2-0 record against the Lakers but explaining that home-court advantage is a trump card: "That's huge in the Finals."
Lakers finally arrive
Reporting from Denver -- In a season of redemption, where the Lakers decided from day one to finish off what they couldn't a year ago, another authoritative step was taken toward an NBA championship.
Those who questioned the Lakers' resolve were quieted. Those who wondered if they were too fatigued now know the answer.
Those who didn't think the Lakers could handle the physical, unpredictable Denver Nuggets witnessed a thorough 119-92 series-clinching victory in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals Friday at Pepsi Center.
Game 1 of the NBA Finals begins Thursday against either Orlando or Cleveland. The Lakers went 2-0 against Cleveland and 0-2 against Orlando in the regular season, but they would have home-court advantage against Orlando.
Kobe Bryant had 35 points and 10 assists in a dominant effort Friday that brought home the franchise's 30th conference championship. James Worthy then handed a silver trophy to Lakers General Manger Mitch Kupchak, amid a reaction by the players that would be called appreciative rather than excitable or declarative.
Everyone knows his role in this relationship
From Denver -- Now that Phil and I have bonded, we still have a few wrinkles to work out -- beginning with who gets the credit when we win it all.
When asked about maybe collecting a 10th championship ring as NBA coach after we had dismantled the Nuggets, Phil shifted the talk to our very own players, and said, "It's really about them."
Hooray for our guys.
That's so nice, but just to clarify since I will be writing more glowing stories next week about our guys, I wanted to make sure: "So you don't want any credit when it comes to winning it all?"
By way of clarification, Phil said, "I'll take it all from you," as we continue to work together -- my role to motivate him and get the very best out of the very best coach in the game. "But everybody else [in the media] doesn't have to give me any."