Tinsel Town? More like Turnover Town. After a 9-game winning streak, which included a triple overtime victory against Phoenix and a come-from-behind win against Utah, the Lakers post-All-Star break record is now 17-2. It’s nothing to scoff at, but with their exceptional play of late, and coming in today against a short-handed Denver team, the Lakers could have won this game easily if they weren’t so busy turning the ball over.
Nine turnovers in the first half, followed by 11 more in the second. 20 assists to 20 turnovers, which means that Andrew Bynum pass to Kobe Bryant for a layup, was later virtually negated when he threw away the ball on a bad pass; that Lamar Odom reverse layup from Steve Blake was later followed by his turn to throw a bad pass himself. All examples of carelessness that the Lakers couldn’t afford against a Denver team who has recently found their defense. And give Denver credit for their defense. They scarcely left a white uniform alone, often chasing down Kobe Bryant and forcing him into tough shots and pressuring the Lakers into numerous shot clock violations. The Nuggets’ first-round opponent – take heed. The D is back in Denver. It makes you wonder if Carmelo Anthony was stunting their ability to defend.
It was, by no means, the best game either team played. With the Lakers shooting just 36% in the first quarter, and Denver doing just as badly with 35%, the offense on both sides was stagnant for long stretches. Ron Artest missed two layups in the first 30 seconds of the game, which might’ve been an indication of things to come for the Lakers.
Artest, another improved player after the season break, didn’t have his best game today, going just 1-5 for his five points, and allowing his man, Danilo Gallinari, to go off for 22 points on 7-13 (3-6 from 3 PT). Gallinari did score just four points in the second half, partially due to a flurry of missed free throws, but he was the only player who was scoring for Denver until Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson woke up from their 0-10 start. Their surge in the second half took this game away.
Kobe Bryant chipped in 28 points but needed 27 shots to get there. Lamar Odom hit a clutch three to cut the deficit to two points, but failed to box out and gave up a tip in to Kenyon Martin, who put the lead back up to four with 11 seconds left in the game.
The only Lakers who took more than three shot attempts and achieved a 50%+ percentage and did all kinds of good were L.A.’s big men, Pau Gasol (16 points on 7-10) and Andrew Bynum (8 points on 4-7). That they had the most efficient night offensively, it’s a shame the Lakers didn’t move the ball more to give them greater opportunities to score because they would have had a huge game. Kenyon Martin is no match for Gasol and Bynum throwing down two dunks over Nene to open the game should have been a bright neon sign to the rest of the team that read: GIVE US THE BALL. But it was a lot of dribbling, which caused their biggest issue of the afternoon, again, turnovers.
Gasol took a hard fall after he was fouled by Nene in the third quarter, which had him clutching his knee and limping to the bench. Thankfully, he was able to come back in to finish the game. Andrew Bynum also landed awkwardly in the second half, which kept him on the bench for the latter part of the final 12 minutes. Both players were able to walk back to the locker room, which is always a good sign. Hopefully it’s nothing too serious.
With the Spurs’ win earlier today and this loss for the Lakers, the gap between the first and second seed in the West is back to 2 ½ games. Next up is Utah on Tuesday, probably hoping to avenge their loss from Friday. The Lakers need to take notes on what NOT to do from this game and file it away. With six games left in the regular season, and the race for seeding so close in the league, every game matters.
Pre-game Thoughts: Denver has been hot since ‘Melo and Chauncey’s left for Madison Square Garden, and right now, are riding a 5-game winning streak. Even without the services of Arron Afflalo, out with a hamstring injury, the Nuggets are still rolling. The Lakers need only to continue their exceptional play to counter the Nuggets’ (let’s admit it) surprising surge.
Half-time Thoughts: 40-47 – Both teams struggled from the field, shooting just 35% and 36% in the first 12 minutes; neither unable to put the ball in the hole. But a late 2nd quarter 10-3 run gave the home team a 7-point half-time lead. Kobe Bryant leads all scores with 19 points, with Denver’s Danilo Gallinari doing it for the Nuggets with 18 points. Andrew Bynum, by the way, has 12 of the Lakers’ 29 rebounds.
Most Thoughtless Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: A lazy Lakers team – 9 turnovers in the first half and 11 in the second. You’re supposed to REDUCE mistakes in the second half, not increase them.
Most Thought-filled Play(s)/Player(s) of the Game: Andrew Bynum – 16 rebounds! Could’ve used him after Nene missed that second free throw. That rebound would’ve been secured, no doubt.