During these 2009 playoffs, the Lakers have looked pretty bad at times and half decent at other times. But tonight in Denver they regained their championship form and retained the Western Conference Title with a 119-to-92 win over the Nuggets.
The Lakers played a complete game tonight at both ends of the court. Although Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 35 points and 10 assists, most of the Lakers who saw action contributed.
Pau Gasol had another double double with 20 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and three steals. Trevor Ariza finished with 17 points on seven-of-nine shooting and three-of-four from the three-point line.
Lamar Odom was terrific once again off the bench with 20 points and eight rebounds and two-of-two from beyond the arc. Luke Walton also had a solid game off the bench with 10 points and three assists. Altogether the Lakers shot an astounding 57 percent for the game.
But the big story tonight was the Lakers defense. The Lakers stopped the Nuggets from running the court and from getting easy looks. They took back control of the boards out-rebounding the Nuggets 38-27 and held the Nuggets to 44 percent shooting.
The Lakers will be going to their 30th NBA Finals while the Nuggets will be going home. But that’s not to say that this hasn’t been a banner year for Denver and their fans.
Last year, the Lakers swept them in the first round. This year they tied a team record with 54 regular-season wins and went through New Orleans and Dallas in the first two rounds losing only two games. This is the deepest the Nuggets have gone in the playoffs since their ABA days.
Carmelo Anthony finished his season with a team-high 25 points on his 25th birthday. J.R. Smith was right behind him with 24 points off the bench.
The Magic holds a three-to-two lead in their Eastern Finals series and will try to closeout the Cavaliers tomorrow night at home in Orlando. If they do, that can spell serious trouble for the Lakers.
During the regular season, the Lakers swept both Cleveland and Boston but were swept by the Magic in both of their games. However, should they play Cleveland, the Lakers will not have home court advantage as they would against Orlando.
The problem is that the Lakers have no answer for the likes of Dwight Howard on the offensive boards, unless Andrew Bynum does some really fast maturing, which is unlikely.
The other problem is that everyone of the other Magic starters can hit from beyond the arc. Hedo Turkoglu, Rashard Lewis, Rafer Alston, and Michael Pietrus are all deadly three-point shooters. The Lakers, on the other hand, have been notorious this season for not closing on the three-point shot.
The one consolation, if you can call it that, is the fact that Jameer Nelson was the high-scorer in both of the Magic’s games against the Lakers this season.
Nelson, of course, is finished for the year. But that was the reason the Magic picked up Rafer Alston from the Houston Rockets. So far, in the playoffs, Alston has proven to be a more than adequate replacement.
As for not having home-court advantage, that hasn’t bothered the Magic at all in their series with the Cavaliers, who only lost two games at home all year.
Putting it another way, the Lakers would fare much better against the Cavaliers even without home court advantage than they would against the Magic. LeBron James may be the best player in the game, but he doesn’t have the quality around him that the Magic have at all five positions and off the bench as well.
One final note, this is the fourth time that Kobe Bryant has scored over 500 points in the playoffs. This will be his sixth NBA Finals series. He is looking for his fourth ring while Phil Jackson is looking for No. 10, the most ever by any NBA coach.