George Karl keeps talking about the wild-card players and wild card moments needed to beat the Lakers.
Two games into the first-round playoff series involving the veteran coach's Denver Nuggets, one gets the impression it might take a royal flush for them to win a game.
The Nuggets addressed many of their opening-game deficiencies in Game 2 on Tuesday … and still lost.
They wanted to run and did, sprinting and dunking their way to 30 fastbreak points. They wanted to be tougher inside the paint and were, outrebounding the Lakers by four. They wanted to get more out of Ty Lawson and he complied, the speedy point guard weaving and spinning his way to 25 points.
So, now what?
After dropping the first two games in a series that hardly looks bound for five games, much less seven, the Nuggets need a better plan going into Game 3 in Denver on Friday than merely hoping the high altitude renders the Lakers breathless.
Here's a bullet-filled (and bulletproof) blueprint for the Nuggets to win at least one of the two weekend home games and force the series back to Los Angeles for a Game 5:
• Take a lead, why don't you! The Nuggets have never led in the series. And it's little wonder why, considering the Lakers bolted to a 13-point lead in the first quarter of Game 1 and had a nine-point lead early in Game 2.
Those advantages only continued to grow, with the Lakers building cushions as large as 21 points in the opener and 19 points in the second game.
"We can't go down 19 or 20 and chop off that," Lawson said after the Nuggets' 104-100 loss in Game 2. "It takes a lot of energy."
• Mix in a make with all your misses. Denver shot only 35.6% and 44.0% in the first two games, with Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington the biggest culprits.
Afflalo made a combined seven of 23 (30.4%) shots, and Harrington was worse, making eight of 27 (29.6%). JaVale McGee shot only two of 12 (16.7%), but the backup center is not supposed to be a big part of the Nuggets' offense.
The drop-off in scoring has been particularly puzzling for Afflalo, who shot 52.1% in April. The former UCLA standout desperately needs to make a three-pointer to boost his confidence after missing his first eight shots from beyond the arc in the series.
• Formulate a new plan for stopping Kobe Bryant. The Nuggets largely went with single coverage early in the series and got singed, the Lakers star following up his 31-point performance in the opener with a 38-point outburst in Game 2.
Double-teaming Bryant at the expense of leaving the largely underwhelming Devin Ebanks or Matt Barnes open isn't such a bad idea.
But the Nuggets may want to see if Bryant's season-long shooting woes in Denver continue before committing too many defensive resources. Bryant made only six of 28 shots there in the Lakers' 99-90 loss on New Year's Day and then made seven of 23 during the Lakers' 93-89 victory on Feb 3.
• Continue to run, run, run. The pace in Game 2 was far more to the Nuggets' liking. If they can secure a few more defensive stops at the Pepsi Center and get out in transition, it could add some much-needed fizz to their offense.
"Until we get an opportunity to push the pace and force them to become a part of our game," Afflalo said, "they're going to continue what they want to do."
• Win big in the wild-card battle. Ebanks, Jordan Hill and Steve Blake provided unexpected boosts for the Lakers in Game 1 that the Nuggets couldn't match.
Denver arguably won that category in Game 2, with reserve guard Corey Brewer (13 points) and McGee (five points, nine rebounds, six blocks) stepping up. But even that wasn't enough.
"Our players have to understand that we need five, six guys playing at a high level to win," Karl said. The Lakers "might only need two or three."
Times staff writer Melissa Rohlin contributed to this report.