Nuggets Rout Kobe-less Lakers, 126-108The Denver Nuggets ran past the L.A. Lakers 126-108 at the Honda Center (Anaheim, California) in a preseason game broadcast by TNT. Carmelo Anthony led the Nuggets with 32 points, while Andre Miller had 14 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds. Linas Kleiza scored 19 points in only 22 minutes, including 16 in the fourth quarter. J.R. Smith, who Denver acquired in the offseason to bolster the team's three point shooting, scored 14 points and made three of his eight three point attempts after hitting eight three pointers and putting up 26 points in Denver's previous game, a 127-107 loss to Utah. Andrew Bynum, starting at center for the Lakers in place of the injured Kwame Brown, had 23 points, seven rebounds and five assists; Lamar Odom added 17 points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Kobe Bryant did not play as he is still rehabilitating from offseason knee surgery. It is not certain if he will be able to play on Tuesday when the Lakers open the regular season versus the Phoenix Suns; the Associated Press reported that Bryant's movements were limited during pre-game warmups and that he seemed to be experiencing pain in the knee, which would seem to contradict what Bryant told TNT: that his knee feels better than it has in 10 years. Bryant watched the game in street clothes from the bench. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson is recovering from hip replacement surgery and was not on the bench, but is expected to return in time for the regular season. Denver's starting center Marcus Camby suited up but did not play due to plantar fasciitis; TNT's Kevin Harlan called it "plantar fasciitis in his foot" but that is like saying "a sprained knee ligament in his knee"--after all, you can't have a "plantar" injury anywhere other than your foot!
The Lakers got off to a quick start, taking 5-0 and 13-5 leads. They pushed the margin to 20-11 midway through the first quarter, feasting on five Denver turnovers. Bynum was impressive early, scoring 14 first quarter points, and the Lakers led Denver 40-34 going into the second quarter. It would seem that he is responding to the coaching efforts of Phil Jackson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. TNT's Doug Collins explained that an important part of the triangle offense is called "post lane sprint"--the team's big man sprints down the middle of the court, beats the defense to the post, receives the ball in the middle of the lane and scores. When Shaquille O'Neal played for Jackson's Lakers (and was in good enough shape to run the floor) he scored a ton of points in this manner. Bynum did this several times versus Denver. Acting head coach Kurt Rambis told TNT's Craig Sager at halftime that Bynum not only ran the floor well but that he also did a good job of sealing off the defender to prevent him from breaking up the play. Bynum is about to turn 19 and seems to have a ton of promise; he looks HUGE and his game is much more polished than it was last season. In the second quarter, he took Nene, an athletic, physical player (albeit one coming off of a serious injury) into the post, gave him an up and under move and dunked on him. "That is a big-time move," exclaimed Collins. Nene countered with a face-up jumper over Bynum on the next possession. Bynum is hardly a timid kid now, either--late in the third quarter he got good post position and screamed to guard Sasha Vujacic, "Pass me the f------ ball!"
Sager interviewed Bynum after the game and asked him what parts of his game he had improved. Bynum replied, "I've improved cardiovascularly. Getting up and down the court was an issue for me last year. Over the summer I did sprints and now I get down the court, seal in the middle of the paint and go up for an easy shot."
Sager followed up by asking Bynum what he thought Jackson and Abdul-Jabbar would think of his performance. Bynum offered this frank and surprisingly objective analysis: "Kareem would tell me that I played good in the post tonight but on defense I wasn't really anchoring the paint. I kind of let my team down in the middle; they got a bunch of layups that I shouldn't have let go. I'm quite sure that Phil thinks the same thing right now. What they really need me to do is rebound and block shots. We've got Kobe who is going to shoot the shots and score and we've got Lamar Odom, so that's about 80% of the shots right there, so really I just need to get rebounds and block shots."
During the second quarter, Collins talked about the Lakers' prospects this season. Not surprisingly, a lot hinges on Kobe Bryant's health and productivity: "This guy is a brilliant basketball player," Collins said "and, to me, when he is healthy he is still the best player in the NBA." Collins added that the other Lakers players need to step up their play and he is optimistic that they will do just that: "Just watching this game tonight, I think that the Lakers could fool a few people. I think that they are going to be better than what people expect when they get all their pieces together and get Phil back on the bench."
Denver only led 63-59 at halftime but pulled away in the third quarter, when Anthony scored 13 points. Anthony exploded late in the quarter for nine straight points in less than two minutes, pushing the margin to 93-78. Denver took a 97-82 lead into the fourth quarter. A pair of Jordan Farmar fast break baskets brought the Lakers to within 10 but a Kleiza three pointer ended the run and put Denver up 112-99; the Lakers did not mount a serious threat after that.
posted by David Friedman @ 2:33 AM