NBA Playoffs 2012: Top 3 Necessities for Lakers to Close Out Nuggets in Game 5
The Los Angeles Lakers were able to capture a pivotal win in Game 4 on the road in Denver. Tonight, the Nuggets face elimination if the Lakers are able to close out on their home court in the Staples Center.
The Lakers have played at a higher level at home all season long. This has continued so far in the first round as the Lakers haven't allowed the Nuggets to lead in scoring at all in Los Angeles.
Especially at home, there are necessities that already seem to fall in line. Kobe Bryant can be counted on to make an impact, even if he struggles with efficiency. Also, having the home crowd on your side will transfer to the players performing with passion and intensity, something the Lakers have struggled with on the road in the regular season and in most of Games 3 and 4 in Denver.
Nevertheless, there are three keys for the Lakers to employ during Game 5 tonight in order to not extend this series and move on to the next opponent, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Lakers Must Control the Tempo
The Denver Nuggets are built around speed and transition offense. That is the team's identity and how they were able to lead the league in scoring this regular season.
We all saw the result when the Nuggets were able to play at their pace in Game 3 in Denver. The Nuggets were able to force turnovers, 15 to be exact, get out of the break and take advantage of easy opportunities.
In Games 2 and 3, the Nuggets were able to out-rebound and beat the Lakers in second chance scoring. Even though the Lakers narrowly beat the Nuggets in Game 2, the Nuggets played at their pace in both of these games. In fact, the Nuggets' ability to score fast break points led to them outscoring the Lakers in points in the paint by 20 in Game 3.
So how do the Lakers control the tempo in Game 5? They need to control the boards, plain and simple.
The Lakers have struggled in transition defense all season long. They will not be able to change that overnight, especially in the playoffs. Therefore, they must win the rebound battle in order to prevent the Nuggets from getting out on the break and playing at their pace.
The good news for the Lakers is that they have two seven-footers in Bynum and Gasol who were among the league leaders in rebounding this season. Add Jordan Hill, Kobe Bryant and Matt Barnes' ability to grab boards and the Lakers certainly have the tools to get the job done.
Domination by the Lakers Frontcourt
When Andrew Bynum is focused and fully prepared, he can easily dictate the game. In Game 1, Bynum was able to prove that he doesn't need to have a stellar offensive game to have an impact. His defensive abilities can absolutely determine the result of the game.
Last week, I wrote how Andrew Bynum is the X-factor for the Lakers, especially for their run in the playoffs. In this series, the Nuggets simply don't have an answer for Bynum if he is playing to his ability. The Nuggets have assigned three different players to cover Bynum, meaning they are still searching for an answer.
Then there is arguably the best third-option player in the league, Pau Gasol. Gasol has been quite consistent during the first round, averaging 13.8 points, 8.5 rebounds and 5.5 assists per game. Gasol typically has rather big games earned by his high basketball IQ, his court vision and his unique abilities for his size.
Gasol and Bynum's necessity of cleaning up the glass has already been discussed, but they both need to use their bodies and skills to dominate on the offensive end as well. The Lakers' biggest strength and threat to opponents remain the length in the frontcourt.
Therefore, in order to end this series and begin preparation for the Thunder, the Lakers' frontcourt must dominate the game for all 48 minutes.
Lakers' Role Players Must Show Up
The Lakers’ bench knew it had been underperforming, on offense in particular, and that the continuing problem had become a major reason the Nuggets won Game 3 and were threatening to tie the best-of-seven series late in the fourth quarter on Sunday.
It was that fourth quarter that changed everything—the game, the direction of the series and definitely the perception of the subs in need of an image boost.
Jordan Hill, the one consistent L.A. reserve in the series, continued his steady play with four rebounds in the period (11 for the game) to go with 12 points for his second double-double in four tries. Blake, though, went from shooting 25 percent the first three and three-fourths games to hitting three-of-four in the final quarter Sunday. That included two-of-three from behind the arc as clutch moments in the 92-88 victory that earned the Lakers a 3-1 lead in the first-round series.
In Game 1 and Game 4, especially in the clutch, the Lakers' bench came through in a big way. This is great news for the Lakers and, in particular, Kobe Bryant.
Trusting that the bench and role players can come through when needed, the Lakers are able to spread the floor, and the occurrence of double-teams on Bryant and Bynum decrease.
Jordan Hill, Steve Blake and Matt Barnes make up the primary rotation being used in the postseason. In order to close out this series and make a long run in the playoffs, the Lakers' bench needs to step up at a consistent level.