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Nuggets win over Lakers should get Thunder’s attention

Apr 3, 2011, 7:15 PM EDT

Nene Hilario, Andrew Bynum AP

With just 10 days of NBA games remaining, some first round playoff matchups are pretty much set. Out West, the Oklahoma City Thunder are almost certainly getting the Denver Nuggets in the first round.

Sunday Denver beat the Lakers by outworking them, being more scrappy, playing good defense and moving the ball on offense (95-90 was the final score). They have beaten the Celtics and Spurs the same way since the All-Star break.

The Thunder have more size and more talent, they are more athletic. But Nuggets are going to make it very tough to beat them four times out of seven. This is a good team. And if the Thunder don’t bring it and are looking ahead to the second round they will not get there.

What the Nuggets did to the Lakers was not a thing of beauty. The first half was ragged, with the Lakers length giving Denver some trouble, the Nuggets activity giving the Lakers some trouble, and both teams just missing a lot of good looks.

Denver shot 29.5 percent for the first half and the Lakers led 47-40 at the break despite having an offensive rating of just 95.9 (points per 100 possessions). Kobe Bryant hit 4-of-6 in the second quarter and had 19 points for the half (28 for the game). Danilo Gallinari had 18 in the first half for Denver and finished with 22.

The game remained close in the third but at the start of the fourth Denver’s bench executed better than the Lakers. And that better execution continued through the fourth quarter.

Denver was able to use 18 Laker turnovers for the game and a lot of missed shots to get out and run — the game had 97 possessions. That’s faster than the Lakers want to play, but just where the Nuggets like it.

The old Nuggets, when the game got tight, you could count on a Carmelo Anthony isolation and the Lakers would bring a big man over to the strong side early, a defense that usually allowed them to stop Denver late. But now Raymond Felton is hitting a cutting Kenyon Martin with a sharp pass and Denver is getting layups.

The Lakers played the end of the game without Andrew Bynum, who tweaked his knee and was kept out for what the team called “precautionary reasons.” (Both Bynum and Pau Gasol will have MRIs on their knees Monday after both had tweaks.)

The result was that with the Lakers down 3 and 11 seconds to go, Nene missed a free throw but Martin just outmuscled Lamar Odom, got the rebound and tipped it in. That was the dagger.

The Lakers had been sloppy in their previous game at Utah, the Jazz just don’t have the team that can make them pay. The loss ended the Lakers nine-game win streak. The loss, combined with a Spurs win over the Suns, makes it less likely the Lakers can catch the Spurs for the top seed in the West.

Denver was just the scrappier, hungrier team but they also are playing good team basketball right now. There are a lot of teams that, if they shared the ball like Denver is doing right now, if they were working as hard on defense, would be a lot better.

Denver is going to be a very tough out in the playoffs. They are capable of beating anyone. Oklahoma City is a better team on paper and will have the two best players in that series on their team. But if they don’t focus and execute, Denver will be the team moving on from that series.

  1. dysraw1 - Apr 3, 2011 at 8:44 PM

    i still dont think the lakers are the team to beat, the west is definitely worth taken a look at this year. wild race. to all who care i vowed not to call him dick dantone if he got us in he did. so i now dub him money mike[until further notice].

  2. negrodamus28 - Apr 3, 2011 at 9:10 PM

    Negrodamus predicts Denver in 6

  3. yankeesjetsknicksrangers - Apr 3, 2011 at 10:16 PM

    Felton, Galo, Chandler and Mozgov in addition to what they already had give the Nuggets prodigious depth and athleticism at every position. I’ve watched a few of their games and they go hard.

    They will be a tough out this year. As a Knick fan I’m pulling for them

  4. redbear18 - Apr 3, 2011 at 10:45 PM

    Really, any playoff team could win the west, except maybe the hornets and mavericks. I like both the thunder and nuggets, but I want denver to win more to show people you don’t need a superstar, and you especially don’t need Melo. Nuggets could make a run, but Knicks are one and done.

  5. passerby23 - Apr 4, 2011 at 1:06 AM

    Denver has to be at the top of the list of teams you don’t want to see in the playoffs. It’s a shame they’ll be matched up with OKC in the first round where one of these teams has to lose. Bottom line though is you just can’t bet against the Lakers in a seven-game series. Their size is going to be a factor against anyone.

  6. purdueman - Apr 4, 2011 at 2:41 AM

    I really hope that the revamped Thunder with tough Perkins as their new man in the middle get to meet the Lakers in the NBA playoffs, because the younger, much tougher Thunder will take the Lakers out in 6 and put an end to all of this nonsense about another Laker “three peat”.

    Even if the Lakers somehow manage to pull another rabbit out of their aging hat by winning the West Conference, they ain’t gonna get past the young energized Bulls or the Heat who will likely emerge as the winners of the Eastern Conference playoffs (sorry Celtic fans, but Danny Ainge took you out of the race when he foolishly traded away tough guy Perkins in the center. Both O’Neil boys are now about as useful as a one legged man in a butt kicking contest!).

    And no, I don’t hate the Lakers; I hate all of the Laker hype. May it go down in flames like the Hindenberg!

    • loungefly74 - Apr 4, 2011 at 9:24 AM

      it’s not hype when you’re winning. winning the last 2 titles allows the fans/team/pro-media to beat their chest. that is one of the great things about winning, the trash talk/hype is backed up.
      now…the heat…that is hype. until they win, it’s hype.
      the melo drama…that was hype as well.
      how do you pull a “rabbit out of the hat” in the NBA playoffs? its a best of 7 games! jez…it is NOT the NCAA tourney.
      i wouldn’t call a possible Laker 3-peat “nonsense”. they have been to the finals the past 3 years. seems like they know what they are doing.
      so you pretty much think it will be a Thunder versus Bulls/Heat finals? fine, no problem with that…we will see.

      • purdueman - Apr 4, 2011 at 10:02 AM

        loungefly… I think that the Thunder are probably a year and some playoff experience away from being able to make a serious run at getting all the way to the NBA finals, but I also think that this is the type of team that’s very dangerous in a matchup with the aging Lakers too.

        Why? Because as we all know, the teams matched up with any defending champion from any sport always get that extra motivation and focus needed to take them out. Although with Noah and Rose one could make the argument that the Bulls lack playoff experience as well, but with guys like Brewer, Boozer, Korver and Deng all in the Bulls two five man rotations and Rose now going into his third consecutive playoffs, I think they’ll go far.

        How the matchups spill out I think will play a critical factor as to who emerges in the NBA Finals, and once again, if I were Lakers coach Michael Jackson the last matchup that I’d want is the Thunder right now.

    • hoopsfanatic - Apr 4, 2011 at 11:52 AM

      Purdueman,

      Don’t count your chickens before they hatch. :D

      Seriously, I don’t think it’s a given, as you claim, the Lakers won’t win the title this year. It’s way too early to tell. However, the Lakers are very talented, and their size will cause a lot of problems for most teams. I’m not predicting, or making a claim the Lakers will win again. All I’m saying is I believe you are being very premature in making the claim that the Thunder will take the Lakers out in six. You have every right to “hate” the Lakers. But I would suggest to you that your “hatred” for the Lakers is causing you to overlook the fact that they have a legitimate chance of winning it all this season.

  7. dysraw1 - Apr 4, 2011 at 9:03 AM

    theres gonna be some upsets in the east, & dont be surprized if the knicks create one of them. all u need is a couple of breaks here & there. its the next level, some teams aint ready for that.

    • purdueman - Apr 4, 2011 at 10:09 AM

      The Knicks and the Heat are an interesting parallel. The Heat have two ballhogs but can only play with one ball. The Knicks have only two players that have to always have the ball in order to have any chance at advancing in the playoffs.

      All the days off in between playoff games will help the thin Knicks and aging Lakers more than any other two teams projected to make the playoffs, but at the end of the day I think we’ll see Mello and Sroudemire simply run out of gas, leaving the Knicks waiting for AAA to arrive to get them to the airport for their flights home.

  8. damp1015 - Apr 4, 2011 at 2:10 PM

    I think both East and West cannot be predicted like many previous years. Lets see….starting with the West, the Thunder is extremely dangerous as well as the Nuggets whether some people will agree or not. The Spurs are so-so, but you never know with them. Personally I think the Thunder if getting past the Nuggets will meet the Lakers in the West Finals and like “purdueman” stated, they will beat the Lakers out in 6 simply because of:

    1. Youth/Energy
    2. Determination behind beating out the reigning champs
    3. Durant is a monster scorer, yes he matters LAKER fans, just face it!
    4. Westbrook is blazing on the court, his going to get some knees.
    5. Perkins….he will cause some ruckus especially with the previous Celtic/Laker battles.

    I mean lets be honest, there are millions of Lakers fans and I can say as a Knicks fan that yes they are an excellent team but their age is getting them. Kobe is one of the best of all time, not MJ, but one of the best to play the game. But I think it slipping out of their fingers to the youth of the West.

    Now the East….the Bulls are amazing right now, but the Playoff experience might hurt them, but and I say “but” the chemistry is off the chart just like the Nuggets. Boston has too many issues surrounding their squad and with Perkins traded, there is too much doubt. Orlando, now that is too hard to call, they can dominate and then they can flop since their chemistry as a team is not completely concrete, just remember when Howard complained of the lack of aggression from his team not too long ago.

    Now the Heat and the Knicks, these two are quite the gamble to be frank. Yes I am a Knicks fan for alomst 16 years(I’m 30yrs) but Melo and STAT need to work things through as well as the rest of the team. They need to work on playing DEFENSE. I am not going to lie, yes they need to play “D”, like they did against the HEAT the last time they played. And with “Mr. Big Shot” and Douglas, they can become lethal when the fire is burning with their shots so it is indeed a gamble.

    The HEAT, I truly do not know. They can dominate when the big 3 are beasting on the court but then they flop like crazy at times. Who can call it? Who knows anymore…..I just know that the playoffs are going to be interesting again, last year was not all that great!

    Go Knicks!!!!!!! And go Thunder, they are not my team but my pick for the West!

  9. hoopsfanatic - Apr 4, 2011 at 2:41 PM

    I suspect some of you are predicting the Lakers will lose simply because you don’t like the Lakers and you are hoping the Lakers will lose. We shall see. I still think the Lakers, if healthy, will be a difficult team to beat. Oh well. All of this will be decided in the coming weeks.

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