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Second verse, close enough to the first

April 24, 2008 | 12:20 am

It was kind of like Game 1, in the sense that the Lakers received a superlative performance from a star player and won going away while down the stretch the Nuggets dissolved like Hammer's career.  But Wednesday night's 122-107 win also had some unique features, namely the 49 points and 10 assists from Kobe Bryant, who rebounded in the biggest way from a disappointing effort on Sunday.  The Nuggets threw the kitchen sink at 24, doing everything from working him one-on-one against Kenyon Martin or Linus Kleiza to zoning up the purple and gold to doubling him to get the ball out of his hands... and it's fair to say that none of it worked.  Early on, Kobe was red hot, drilling jumpers George Karl would call "undefendable."  Later, in a critical stretch of the third, Kobe became a distributor (five helpers in the quarter), tearing apart the Denver zone and giving his mates a host of easy looks.  Late, he was a lot a bit of everything, racking up 19 points on 6-7 from the floor while still logging three dimes. 

Just as they did on Sunday, the Lakers showed that they are clearly the better team.  More disciplined, more composed, more versatile. The Nuggets are talented enough to make the Lakers play- remember, Denver did win 50 games in a brutal Western Conference- but as long as the Lakers stick to what they do well, they're the better team. Tonight, while the effort wasn't necessarily even for all 48, LA did more than enough to get the job done.

AK with the breakdown below.


The Good

Kobe Bryant: Most folks figured Kobe's 9-26 Game 1 shooting struggles wouldn't carry over into today's sequel.  Those same folks weren't off base.  So sharp, in fact, was Kobe's aim that he managed to carry his squad through a first half when the supporting cast was collectively frigid.  Kobe banked 20 points in the first frame alone, hitting a ludicrous 80% of his attempts (8-10).  25 points in all before halftime Gatorade and orange slices off a red hot 10-15 shooting performance.  From there, his teammates began to catch fire, in large part because Bryant did a fantastic job setting them up.  His second half dime tally matched his old jersey number, the assists coming either off post-penetration kickouts or spotting dudes cutting towards the basket. 

But the facilitating mode didn't prevent him from nabbing his own buckets.  Another 24 points over the final 24 minutes, including 12 fourth quarter points in just under three minutes.  Aside from being just a terrific performance, tonight was one of the most controlled games I've ever seen Kobe play.  I don't mean that simply in regards to his shot selection, which was almost entirely unforced.  I mean "controlled" in the most literal sense.  Simply put, Kobe controlled the action, however he decided it was supposed to be happening.   

DJ Mbenga - Ronny Turiaf's illness created an opportunity for DJ Mbenga to grab some rare second quarter action, a chance he didn't take lightly.  Mbenga remained continually active during his five minutes on the floor.  Five rebounds.  A dunk.  A steal.  Preventing an admitedly rusty Nene from having a bust out offensive game.  "You've got to be ready when they need you, " said Mbenga of his goals after the game.  "You've got to contribute."  Tonight would qualify as a mission accomplished. 

Luke Walton's second half: Kid Big Red's first half was solid (5/3/2, with a couple turnovers), if nothing necessarily to write home about.  And he actually began his quick third quarter entry in shaky fashion, lowlighted by an awkward turnover off a goofy two man game between him and Vlad Radmanovic.  But then Walton not only settled down, but played a large role in helping ward off a Denver surge.  All 10 of his points came during the frame's final six minutes, helping to create a steamroll effect that put the Nuggets on the ropes.  From there, he continued to play well, drawing a charge on K-Mart, scoring three more points, grabbing four boards and setting up a trio of buckets.  Aside from perhaps Kobe, I don't think any Laker did a better job of breaking through the seams of Denver's zone and rendering it useless.  He also softened any blow that could have come from Lamar Odom's whistle magnet issues.  "Luke saved me tonight," gushed Odom.

Three point shooting:  The Nuggets made a point of packing the paint and forcing the Lakers to hit more from outside.  Given how the Lakers destroyed Denver inside on Sunday, the approach made sense.  It also didn't really help.  Even in the first half when shots mostly fell for just Kobe, the Lakers still managed to hit their share from behind the arc.  Six of their dozen attempts went down, including a pair each for Kobe and Vlad Rad.  From there, long distance accuracy continued at a reasonable 6-16 clip (if maybe a few too many in the third), rounding out to a 43% night.  By now, Denver must be wondering if there's any way they can reasonably expect to defeat the Purple and Gold, save perhaps breaking Kobe's arms.

Pau Gasol: He overcame a slow start (4 pts on 1-5 shooting) to round into a nice statline.  It won't blow minds like his Laker postseason bonanza, but 18/10 and a block ain't nothing to get upset about, either.

Ball Movement: Need I really explain why 33 assists is a quality stat?  Chalk it up to the power of good decision making. 

The Bad

Lamar Odom: Foul trouble (five whistles in all, the last one coming 30 seconds into the fourth) made it tough for LO to be on the floor much (22 minutes).  When he was out there, the output wasn't all that spectacular.  2-9 from the field for a quartet of points.  Only four rebounds.  The six assists were nice, but four came during the first quarter, meaning Odom didn't have much impact from that point on. "I'm the benefactor of being on a great team," smiled Lamar, acknowledging the fellas that helped pick up the slack while he struggled.   

Vlad Radmanovic: 3-10 from the field for 8 points (6 of which came in the first half), plus some mostly ineffective defense on whoever he matched up against.  I realize that Carmelo Anthony is hardly the world's easiest cover, but there were times when the assignment looked a little too hard. 

Rebounding: Not terribly shocking, given that Odom is the team's best board man and was often locked to the pine.  That being said, it's still up to everyone else to do their share to prevent that void from being felt.  For the night's majority, all glass felt owned by Denver.   

DJ Mbenga: Download dj_mbenga_denver_2_postgame.mp3
Pau Gasol: Download pau_gasol_denver_2_postgame.mp3   
Lamar Odom, Part I (with some good stuff about Kobe's ability to play angry): Download lamar_odom_denver_2_postgame_1.mp3
Lamar Odom, Part II: Download lamar_odom_denver_2_postgame_2.mp3
Kobe Bryant: Download kobe_bryant_4.23 Post Game 2.mp3
Luke Walton:
Download luke_walton_4.23 Post Game 2.mp3