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Five things to take away from Lakers' 118-112 loss to Denver Nuggets

November 11, 2010 | 11:15 pm

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1. The Lakers' loss knocks them down to earth. Maybe the Lakers' 118-112 loss Thursday to the Denver Nuggets will temper the talk about the team surpassing 72 wins, set by the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls and surely end the 82-0 bandwagon considering the team's first regular-season loss gives them an 8-1 record. I found the Lakers' 99-94 win over the Timberwolves Tuesday to be more egregious than the loss to Denver (5-4) considering the Nuggets' talent level and because the Lakers manufactured runs, including a 7-2 spurt to end the first half and responded to Denver's 16-2 run to open the fourth quarter with a 10-2 run, creating a 105-103 lead with 4:52 remaining. The Lakers clearly appeared engaged in this one, but the game presented too many peaks and valleys. The Lakers managed to reduce deficits, but only have spending most of the game failing to execute properly.

2. The Lakers became too trigger happy. The Lakers couldn't finish off theatrical plays because they settled for way too many three-pointers. In fact the final 4:52 resulted in the Lakers going zero of five from downtown. The only warranted three-pointer came from Kobe Bryant when he recognized his shot could form enough of an angle on Arron Afflalo to create contact. Subsequently, Bryant's three converted free throws cut the Denver lead to 114-110 with 1:27 remaining, but the other shots became costly.

Bryant's three-pointer at the top of the key over J.R. Smith featured poor lift. Though Pau Gasol grabbed the offensive board, his pass to Shannon Brown immediately led to another missed shot from long range. After Anthony's turnaround jumper widened the gap to 110-105 with 3:28 remaining, Gasol and Bryant ran a series of pick-and-roll until Bryant drove into the lane along the right block. Once Bryant drew a double team, he kicked the ball out to Derek Fisher, whose three-pointer would've been warranted had Ron Artest not been open inside for an entry pass.

With the Lakers trailing 114-110 nearly three minutes later, Gasol set a pick for Bryant at the top of the key and Bryant used the small separation to launch a three-pointer before giving Gasol time to roll to the basket. On the next possession, Artest fired a corner three-pointer despite 12 seconds remaining on the shot clock. Clearly the Lakers couldn't squeaked out a win had they avoided attempting 29 three-pointers.

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3. The Lakers' defense still has issues. This isn't because Denver scored 118 points, marking the sixth time in nine games the Lakers have allowed at least 100 points. The tempo resembled a track meet and both teams were willing to following that pace. This isn't because Anthony scored 32 points on 14 of 25 shooting. Artest mostly guarded him well, but Anthony still found ways to score at a prolific rate despite the limited space Artest afforded him. And this is also isn't because the Nuggets shot 48.9% from the field. The most egregious parts of the Lakers' defensive effort pointed to their failure to get back on transition defense and deny penetration in the lane. The Nuggets cashed in on 10 fourth-quarter fast break points because of the Lakers' poor shot selection and failure to get back on defense. The breakdowns in one-on-one defense also didn't receive much help from the paint, allowing Denver to drive at will.

These two variables have remained problems for the Lakers for quite some time. It might be hard for the Lakers to dial down the offense considering how efficient they've run it, but the team has to ensure better shot selection or else the game will reach a pace the Lakers can't match.

4. The Lakers' frontline struggled. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom should've had a field day considering the Nuggets have had to absorb absences to Chris Anderson and Kenyon Martin because of off-season knee surgeries. But Gasol and Odom combined for seven of 23 from the field. Odom played only 26 minutes and absent altogether in the fourth quarter. And Gasol's post play and interior defending appeared tentative and exhausting. Allowing 54 points to the paint shouldn't happen. They've been the team's most consistent players this postseason, but it clearly shows they need everything they can from them until Andrew Bynum returns around Thanksgiving.

5. Bryant becomes the youngest player to eclipse 26,000 points. With one dribble, one spin and one dagger over Afflalo, Bryant became the youngest player to eclipse 26,000 career points, a mark previously held by Wilt Chamberlain, who accomplished the feat in 32 years, 114 days. Bryant, who wore a determined glare after achieving the milestone, reached that mark in 32 years and 80 days. With a milestone that speaks to Bryant's penchant for scoring at a fast rate, it's fitting that he scored 34 points on 11 of 32 shooting. I can't assess Bryant's zero of six first-quarter clip since the Miami-Boston game ate up nearly the TNT broadcast. I only found issue with Bryant's late-game three-pointers, but his 13 third-quarter points at least kept the Lakers in the game.

 

 --Mark Medina

Twitter.com/latmedina

E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, left, is fouled by Denver guard Chauncy Billups during the first quarter of the Lakers' 118-112 road loss on Thursday. Credit: Rick Giase / EPA.

 Photo: Denver center, Nene, left, puts up a shot as Lakers center Pau Gasol tries to defend during the first quarter of the Lakers' 118-112 loss Thursday. Credit: Chris Schneider/Associated Press


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