Photo courtesy of Justin Edmonds, Getty Images

If the Lakers wanted to eliminate themselves from the post-season, they should have done it earlier. Get swept. Don’t tease your fans with back-to-back efforts, then waltz into Denver looking unprepared, lose big in Game 3, barely win Game 4, lose on your home court in Game 5, and then come back to Denver and get beaten to smithereens by a team who should’ve been eliminated two days ago.

When there’s a chance to eliminate a team in the playoffs, you get it done the first opportunity you get. THE FIRST OPPORTUNITY. The team who is up in the series shouldn’t be thinking of how the other team is going to play in the next game or make assumptions about the ease with which they should beat their opponent. The mindset should be on your own game, your own to-do list of things that will result in a victory, and in the Lakers’ case, in the closeout…both closeouts. But the Lakers have been a fragment of sorts when it comes to collective mindsets. The determination and hunger they possessed in their championship runs in 2009 and 2010 has left but a glimmer in the eyes of Kobe Bryant, who continues to work hard despite injuries and ailments, compensating for the lack of drive in some of his teammates…or at least two of them; the two most important ones no less (more on that later in this post)

Playing with the stomach flu, Bryant came into the game more ready to play than any of his healthy teammates, but there’s only so much he can do, Gastroentiritis or not. When the Nuggets went up 13-0 to start the game, it was obvious where this game was headed.

After going into halftime with just a 9-point deficit to overcome, Denver opened the third quarter with another run from which the Lakers could not counter. The Nuggets only outscored the Lakers by eight points in the second half, but the damage from the first two quarters certainly helped push them over the edge in the end.

Denver threw the Lakers a knockout punch in the first quarter, and though they tried to get up a few times via small runs that chipped at the lead, they eventually just tripped over their own incompetence and lost a second chance at eliminating the Nuggets and moving on to the second round. It was embarrassing, disheartening and just plain disappointing.

Kobe Bryant – Gastroentiritis – it’s a more complicated way to say “stomach flu,” and Bryant had to play with it tonight. Despite feeling sick all day, needing an IV to inject fluids into his system, Bryant still played with greater strength than either of his two healthy big men. He played the entire first quarter, almost nine minutes of the second, all of the third and four minutes of the final quarter before finally subbing out in a game he could no longer fight for alone. He had 31 points on 13-23, grabbed a couple of rebounds, handed out four assists and a steal. He played over 37 minutes, the most in the game, despite his condition. But that’s nothing new for Bryant. He only knows one mode, and that’s ON. It took the Lakers getting down by 28 points with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter for him to finally sub out. These last two Laker losses can be blamed on many things, but not one of them includes the effort and play of Kobe Bryant. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for some of his teammates.
Ramon Sessions – The only other starter who lent a helping hand in this game was Sessions, and if not for him, the Lakers probably wouldn’t have had any points in the paint. Sessions was unafraid to drive in and finish at the rim. He was a blur to every Nugget on the floor and played with a greater energy and purpose than either member of the Lakers’ front court.

Pau Gasol – His first quarter stats are nothing but a series of zeroes. Zero field goal attempts, zero free throw attempts, zero points, zero rebounds, zero assists and a lone block in almost eight minutes of playing time. Zero – also equivalent to the exact amount of effort that the Lakers’ co-captain exerted in this series-deciding game on the road. His final box score barely strays from that first quarter – three points on 1-10 from the field, 1-2 from the charity stripe, three rebounds, one assist, one steal and that one block from the beginning of the game. Rebounds from missed shots flew around Gasol on both ends of the court, and he barely made any efforts to get at them, if he tried at all. Credit goes to the Denver defense, who did their work to close the paint off where Gasol and Bynum do their damage. That being said, the opposing defense shouldn’t dictate effort, which Gasol showed very little of tonight. If not for the simple fact that he is the Lakers’ co-captain, he should have stepped up when Bryant was down, not the other way around.
Andrew Bynum – Another double-double that did very little. On some nights, 11 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks would’ve been a great game for Bynum. But in these playoffs, where his attitude and bravado have taken center stage over his in-game efforts, those stats mean little. He had 10 rebounds going into halftime, but had scored just three points on 1-5 from the field and 1-2 from the free throw line. He looked clearly frustrated on the offensive end, but what ever happened to, “the more I play D, the better we’ll be?” Maybe he was trying to prove a point. He hasn’t played D in two games, and the Lakers are worse off because of it. How long is that experiment supposed to run? Javale McGee and Timofey Mozgov have gained all the confidence in the world with Bynum letting them get whatever they want. He and Gasol were the last players to run back on defense, compromising their teammates’ ability to guard their man or help if needed. He admitted in Game 3 that he didn’t come ready to play. Tonight he said the Nuggets came out with all the energy, effort and the swag, which begs the question – why didn’t he?
Collective Efforts – The defense was porous to non-existent. The offense was all Kobe Bryant. And the energy was all Nuggets. If the Lakers pull the same stunt that they’ve pulled in these last two games, the only thing they’ll have to look forward to is a long summer.

The Lakers wasted their chance to move on in the post-season on Tuesday in Game 5, and now they’ve given life and confidence to a scrappy, skilled and determined Denver Nuggets team who very few gave any chance of competing against the size and experience of this Lakers squad. Based on how the Nuggets outplayed the Lakers to stay alive in the last game at Staples and in tonight’s contest in Denver, there’s no telling which Lakers squad will show up in a Game 7. The silver lining? Metta World Peace will be back in uniform by then.

Box Score