Nuggets-Lakers: Denver Down 0-1 But Hopefully Heed Lessons For Series

Rich Kurtzman@@RichKurtzman Senior Analyst IMay 22, 2009

In a game that was a slug fest, one defining of what makes basketball great, the Lakers had too much clutch execution for the Nuggets to handle.

The contest was a back-and-forth affair in which Denver jumped on LA early, leading 31-23 after one, but it's bench let the Lakers back into the game in the second, as the Nuggets led by only one at half.

In the second half, Denver grew leads on runs, only to allow LA to hang around late. As Game One wound down, both teams had opportunities to win and it was the Lakers who capitalized.

With 30.5 seconds left, the Nuggets had the ball on an out of bounds play down only two points. Anthony Carter, who was put in to make the pass, was harassed by Lamar Odom, double pumped, and still tried to pass to Chauncey Billups. It was the worst mistake of the Nuggets' playoffs so far.

The ball, which shouldn't have been thrown, floated to Trevor Ariza's hands as he ran it down for an easy dunk, putting the Lakers up by four with little time remaining.

Denver was forced into foul situations and Kobe Bryant sank key free throws, and even an amazingly clutch three-pointer by Billups couldn't salvage the game for the Nuggets.

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LA took Game One, 107-105.

Though Denver failed to steal the first game in LA, there were many bright spots and if the Nuggets can exploit, they should win Game Two.

First, Denver was obviously the more energetic squad from jump, breaking out to a 14-6 lead early. The Nuggets' best overall quarter was the first, led by Carmelo Anthony's 16 points on 7-for-8 shooting, as they ran, passed, and defended well.

If the Nuggets can pull efforts like the first quarter of Game One, they will win games, and possibly the series.

Next, as Denver played extremely physically in Game One, they drew 15 more free throws than LA, much as they have done all playoffs so far.

The Nugget's downfall though was missed free throws. The night started eerily as Billups, who shoots 91 percent from the charity stripe, missed his first three attempts.

In the game, Denver missed an atrocious 12 free throws, squandering away their chance at a playoff road victory.

Also, although 'Melo went off with 42 points, Billups needs to have bigger performances for the Nuggets to win. He had 18 points, but missed many open three-pointers in Game One.

Another key factor is Denver's bench. The Nuggets, who have had one of the strongest backups all year, were out scored by LA.

JR Smith, Denver's leading bench scorer, was also injured on the last play of the game. If his strained calf causes him to miss games, it will hurt the Nuggets' bench even more.

Overall though, Denver should look at Game One as an opportunity they just barely let slip away. There were many positives, and they still have a great chance at winning the series.

We will all see tonight, in what may be a pivotal Game Two.

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