Breaking down defensive lapses in the Lakers' 126-113 loss to Denver Nuggets
There's an old adage in sports that says the tape doesn't lie. Any player's mistakes - no matter how large or small - is on full display when it's on tape. And when you have the ability to rewind, fast forward and pause many times over, it doesn't take just a coach to realize what went wrong.
That leads us into the Lakers' 126-113 loss Friday to the Denver Nuggets. They went 15 of 22 from three-point range (68.2%) and 57.1% overall, point guard Chauncey Billups had a career-high 39 points on 12 of 20 shooting along with nine three-pointers, and reserve J.R. Smith (27 points) and rookie Ty Lawson (13 points) rounded out the supporting cast.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said the clear turning point happened when Billups made four consecutive three-pointers after Bryant went to the bench for picking up his fourth foul with 4:16 remaining in the third quarter with a Lakers' 81-75 lead.
The hot shooting didn't stop. Smith scored 16 of his 27 points in the fourth quarter, which featured Denver enjoying a double-digit lead through most of that time.
In fairness to Jackson, he was partly correct that Denver's hot shooting was something you'd normally just see in NBA Jam. But the tape shows the Lakers committing numerous defensive breakdowns along the way.
Third quarter, 3:56- 3:47
Smith drives past Lakers reserve Sasha Vujacic but immediately gets help from Pau Gasol near the far baseline. Smith then retreats back behind the three-point line on the far side, bumping Vujacic to the ground. Smith passes the ball up top to Billups, who sinks a 27-foot three-pointer over Lakers guard Derek Fisher, cutting the Lakers' lead to 83-78.
Third quarter, 3:12 - 3:04
After Vujacic's second missed three-point attempt, Denver forward Chris "Birdman" Anderson (what happened to his hair product? He looks uncomfortably normal) grabs the board and throws an outlet pass to Billups. He leads the break on the far side and nails a 25-foot three-pointer in front of Fisher for the Lakers' lead to 83-81.
Third quarter, 2:40 - 2:29
After Ron Artest's layin rims out despite an effective drop step and good positioning in front of the basket, Gasol's tipin hits front iron and Anderson cleans glass. Billups again leads the break, going past Vujacic on the near side of the court. Vujacic tries to swipe the ball near the top of the key, but finds Smith on the far side behind the perimeter. He drives past Artest, but draws help from Lamar Odom before kicking out to Kenyon Martin in the far corner. Martin quickly passes up to Billups, who drains the 29-footer over Vujacic for the 84-83 lead. The two previous plays weren't necessarily bad defense, but as ESPN analyst Mark Jackson correctly noted, "You think somebody would realize this guy is in a zone and force him to get rid of the basketball?"
Third quarter, 2:07-1:57
After Odom made two free throws for an 85-84 lead, the Lakers switched Artest on Billups. Martin tried setting a screen on Artest. Instead of switching, both Artest and LO locked in on Martin, who created separation for Billups to hit an uncontested three-pointer at the top of the key for the 87-85 lead.
Third quarter, 1:03 - 51.6
With the score tied 87-87, Artest heavily guards Billups and tries swiping the ball before Martin picks it up at the top of the key. He tries driving into the lane, but Odom shuts him off, forcing Martin to cut back outside. He kicks it out to Lawson, who banks in a 27-foot three-pointer, despite Shannon Brown contesting the shot. Denver takes a 90-87 lead.
Third quarter, :20 - :13.6
Lawson mans the point at the top of the key with Brown guarding him. Anderson sets a screen from the left side, but then drops back into the paint. Meanwhile, Odom locks his eyes on Lawson from the paint and loses sight of Martin, who moved back toward the top of the key. Lawson passes to Martin, who sinks an uncontested 21-foot jumper for a 92-89 lead.
Fourth quarter, 10:44 - 10:34
After Jordan Farmar's missed jumper from the near side of the court, Brown's long rebound results in a turnover. Anderson throws the ball up to Lawson the far end of the court near the timeline, and then weaves through Brown and Bryant into the lane for the layup, giving the Nuggets a 98-91 lead. No one on the Lakers appeared upset with their poor transition D.
Fourth quarter, 9:11 - 9:00
After Odom hits a corner three, Lawson mans the point in the Nugget's half-court set. Anderson runs a pick on Farmar and Lawson drives into the lane past Odom with ease for the score, giving the Nuggets a 104-94 lead.
Fourth quarter, 8:14 - 8:07
Lawson's cross-court pass to Smith creates a one-on-one opportunity against Brown. Smith dribbles right and then crosses left as Brown drops back. Smith then uses that separation to pull back for a 20-foot jumper, giving the Nuggets a 106-96 lead.
Fourth quarter, 6:03 - 5:53
Billups, guarded by Bryant, drives right into the lane and draws help from Gasol. Billups kicks the ball out at the top of the key to Smith, who immediately drives right past Brown and then leans back for a 18-foot jumper. Denver leads 111-100 and holds onto to a double-digit edge for the rest of the game.
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Photo: Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups, who had a game-high 39 points Friday night, dishes off after Lakers forward Lamar Odom provides help defense on Friday night. Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times