Lakers vs. Nuggets Pre-Game Report: Closing Time

Up three games to one, the Lakers have a chance to punch their ticket to the second round at Staples tonight. The Lakers won a pivotal road game on Sunday night behind big plays down the stretch from Sessions and Blake. It’s clear that Mike Brown has a game plan which includes defending the Nuggets in transition and limiting second chance opportunities. In addition, the Lakers are putting an emphasis on ball movement as evidenced by the evenly distributed scoring (six Lakers reached double digits in game four). The Lakers will need to execute their game plan to perfection in order to eliminate the Nuggets from contention. Tonight is closing time.

Keys to Lakers’ Victory
Make Lawson a Jump Shooter – Lawson has terrorized the Lakers in the paint this series; however, when left open to shoot, he often misses. Lawson is 15.4% from beyond the arc for the series (2 for 13). The Lakers should give Lawson the Rondo treatment: play off him and beg him to shoot. If you’ve ever seen Lawson’s ugly jumper, then you’ll understand that, that is the correct way to play him. The Lakers’ guards should give Lawson the three, but take away the paint and not allow him to drive down the lane.

Control the Tempo from the Start – It’s important that the Lakers maintain control of the game from the opening tip. In game four, they did a pretty good job of slowing the tempo despite Denver’s relentless desire to speed things up. However, there were spurts when the Nuggets were able to run and put up a bunch of points in a hurry; the Lakers will need to limit these lapses. The Lakers should force the Nuggets to execute within a half court set. The Nuggets philosophy was revealed by George Karl’s pre-game comments, “Remember, we’re not going to execute sets, we’re here to play basketball.” In other words, the Nuggets’ offense is built around running and gunning. Their half court sets are their greatest weakness.

Limit Second Chance Points – Kobe was getting in on the rebounding action in game four and was effective. From what I saw, he prevented Faried from securing an offensive board at least three to four times. If Faried had gotten away with three to four put-backs, the game, which was only decided by four points, could’ve have easily swung in Denver’s favor. Since the Laker bigs will be out to stop a driving Lawson or Afflalo, it’ll be up to the guards to box out and prevent the Nuggets from getting a second chance.

Key Shots from Role Players – Blake and Sessions came up big in game four and the Lakers will continue to call on them as the playoffs progress. Kobe, Pau and Bynum draw so many double teams so it’s imperative that the Lakers’ role players step up and knock down open jumpers. Barnes has been struggling throughout the playoffs, but let’s hope that he can find his stroke tonight.

Series Results
Game 1: Nuggets 88 @ Lakers 103
Game 2: Nuggets 100 @ Lakers 104
Game 3: Lakers 84 @ Nuggets 99
Game 4: Lakers 92 @ Nuggets 88
Lakers lead series 3-1

Game 5, First Round, Western Conference
Denver Nuggets at Los Angeles Lakers
7:30 PM PST, May 8, 2012
Staples Center, Los Angeles, CA
Radio: 710 AM (English), 1330 AM (Spanish)

Nuggets Projected Starting Line-Up:
PG: Ty Lawson
SG: Arron Afflalo
SF: Danilo Gallinari
PF: Kenneth Faried
C: Timofey Mozgov

Key Reserves: G Andre Miller, F Corey Brewer, PF Al Harrington, C JaVale McGee

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