In Game 1, the Denver Nuggets were completely out of sync and had no chance of winning whatsoever. They were dominated on both ends of the court by the Lakers, as Andrew Bynum's beastly triple-double performance included 10 blocked Nuggets shots.
In Game 2, the Nuggets were better, but they still didn't play their way. Kobe Bryant put up 38, Bynum scored a playoff career-high 27 and Denver couldn't keep up because they still couldn't get out on the break.
Game 3 finally brought the Nuggets we had been accustomed to watching all season long, as Denver got out in transition for 30 points on the night. What was spectacular was Denver's play early on: They outscored L.A. 30-14 in the first quarter and went on a 28-2 run to take a 24-point lead in the second quarter.
While they allowed the Lakers to get back to within seven points in the second half, the Nuggs held on and won 99-85.
But Game 4 brought back that so-so team from Game 2, and Denver lost 104-100. The Nuggets led for most of the game, but they weren't able to open up as giant a lead as in Game 3. L.A. took advantage by slowly creeping back and putting the dagger in Denver with back-to-back three-pointers by Ramon Sessions and Steve Blake.
So now, the Nuggets are looking at a 3-1 series deficit—in which teams have only come back to win four percent of the time—and they play the legendary Lakers in L.A.
Can Denver steal a win and bring the series back to the Mile High City?
It's going to be an extremely arduous task, but the Nuggets are up to it.
Here's how they'll have to get it done.
The Nuggets need to get off to a hot start, much like they did in Game 3 and opposite of how they performed in the first quarter of Game 1.
Denver can do so by exerting their energy on the game, using their youthful exuberance to run circles around the older Lakers.
Rookie Kenneth Faried is a key to the Nuggets' energy—his uptempo, “I don't care who you are” mentality fires the rest of the team up while frustrating opponents. Faried and Pau Gasol have really gone after one another all series long, so that will certainly be a matchup to keep an eye on.
Simply put, the Nuggets are at their best when getting out in transition.
They were the No. 1 fast-break team in the league this year, averaging 20 points per, and they'll likely need closer to 30 points in transition to win tonight.
Denver must capitalize on missed Lakers shots, utilizing their athleticism to run the floor and earn easy run-out baskets.
If the Nuggets allow Kobe and L.A. to control the pace as they did in the first two games, Denver doesn't have a chance.
Point guard Ty Lawson is key in Denver's efforts to run, as his blinding speed is unstoppable. If he is determined to fly down the court and get to the hoop as he did in Game 3, it will really bode well for the Nuggs' chances of stealing a win tonight in L.A.
Game 3 highlighted the amazing performances of Faried and young center JaVale McGee.
The two combined for 28 points and an amazing 29 rebounds. At halftime, the two had outrebounded the entire Lakers team 19-18, a sign of how dominant Denver was early on in that contest.
The men from the Mile High City outrebounded the Lakers 54-44 in Game 3, the highest total they've had all postseason long and only the second time they led in that department in the series.
Boxing out Bynum and Gasol will be priority No. 1 for Faried and McGee, as well as for likely starting center Timofey Mozgov and veteran forward Al Harrington.
If Bynum and Gasol are allowed to go into beast mode on the boards, it will spell disaster for Denver.
The game tips off at 8:30 p.m. MT and will be televised nationally on TNT.
Rich Kurtzman is a freelance journalist actively seeking a career in journalism. Along with being your Denver Nuggets Featured Columnist, Rich is the Denver Broncos and CSU Rams Examiner and Kurtzman also writes for Blake Street Bulletin, Stadium Journey and Mile High Hoops.
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