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May 10, 2012
Playoff Prospectus
Nuggets Find Their Shot

by Kevin Pelton

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at Denver 113, L.A. Lakers 96 (Series tied 3-3)
Pace: 93.9
Offensive Ratings: Denver 117.1, L.A. Lakers 105.0

The TNT broadcast Thursday night detailed George Karl's epiphany about this series. After falling behind 3-1, the Denver Nuggets' head coach realized his team was as talented as the Los Angeles Lakers and did not need to play exceptionally to win. (A position the stats bear out.) During Game Six, Karl was wrong. The Nuggets weren't just as good as the Lakers. They were substantially better from start to finish in a win that wasn't as close as the final 17-point margin.

Denver managed to force this series to six games without ever shooting the ball particularly well. They entered Game Six having shot just 23.0 percent from three-point range, including a combined 3-of-30 effort from leading scorers Danilo Gallinari and Ty Lawson. It was only a matter of time before those shots fell. Game Six saw significant regression to the mean, as the Nuggets knocked down half of their 20 three-point attempts.

Ty Lawson led the charge, coming out on fire from the perimeter to start both halves. His 32 points on 19 shooting possessions set the tone for the Denver offense, which was attacking a passive Lakers frontcourt. Andre Miller (12 points) and Corey Brewer (a surprising 18, including a pair of three-pointers) kept the Nuggets' offense going when Lawson cooled off.

The Lakers were able to rally back from the early deficit (including 13-0 Denver to start the game) to get as close as four just before halftime. The Nuggets answered by finishing the half with a 7-2 run, then buried the Lakers in the third quarter. The first possession of the second half was telling, even though Denver didn't score. Kenneth Faried and Timofey Mozgov both created offensive rebounds with their hustle, blowing past stationary Lakers opponents Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.

For the powerful frontcourt that has been the Lakers' strength all season, this was perhaps the worst outing. Bynum at least showed some fight on the offensive glass in the second half, coming up with six offensive boards and 16 total. He was ineffective in the post, struggling to create good looks against Mozgov. There is basically nothing positive to say about Gasol's performance. In 29 minutes, he contributed three points and three rebounds, missing nine of his 10 shot attempts and generally displaying no enthusiasm for the game. The Lakers were outscored by 29 points with him on the floor. As much as fatigue may be a factor at altitude late in this series, Gasol needs to give the Lakers something more than this.

That the bigs couldn't help was unfortunate given the yeoman's work done by an ill Kobe Bryant. Bryant was in hero mode, yes, but with few alternatives and good results. He scored 31 points on 25 shooting possessions and supplied the entirety of the Lakers' outside shooting. L.A. is getting little production from small forwards Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks, and Steve Blake was quiet Thursday as well. Metta World Peace could help in this regard as he returns from his suspension for Saturday's deciding Game Seven, though outside shooting is hardly his forte.

This series is drawing comparisons to the Lakers' seven-game victory over the Houston Rockets in the 2009 conference semifinals en route to the championship. The difference is every Lakers win in that series was by double-figures, making it easier to argue that they could take control whenever they wanted. The Lakers haven't beaten the Nuggets decisively since Game One, and Denver now has a combined +12 differential in this series. The Lakers still have home-court advantage on their side, making them the favorites Saturday, but a Denver win should come as no surprise.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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