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Lakers want to maintain their finishing touch

LAKERS FYI

In the last four seasons, the Lakers have converted 12 of 13 'close-out' opportunities — games in which a victory meant wrapping up a playoff series. They have another chance Tuesday against Denver.

May 07, 2012|By Mike Bresnahan

These are the games that defined the Lakers' recent runs to the NBA Finals, three consecutive appearances until their forgettable flop last season.

If there was a series they could close out, the Lakers were almost automatic, going 12-1 since acquiring Pau Gasol in 2008.

Their lone mistake was a Game 6 loss to Houston in the 2009 conference semifinals, though they quickly atoned by eliminating the Rockets in the next game and taking the NBA championship four weeks later in Orlando.

They have a chance Tuesday to put away the Denver Nuggets in Game 5 of the first round. "Hopefully, we finish them off," Andrew Bynum said. "I don't want to go back to Denver."

If the Lakers don't win Tuesday, they might be on the road for quite a while.

Game 6 would be Thursday in Denver, and if the Lakers won that, they might head directly to Oklahoma City for the next round, which would presumably start Saturday or Sunday.

Put it this way: In the playoffs, where rest and recovery are two of the most important concepts, the Lakers don't want to be away from home any longer than necessary. Or play any more games than needed, obviously.

"They know this is a close-out game. They know if we win this game, we don't have to get on a plane right away and fly to Oklahoma City," Lakers Coach Mike Brown said. "My ninth-grade boy knows it and he's not interested in basketball."

Some people think series-clinching games are the hardest of all. Not Bynum.

"Close-out games are actually kind of easy," he said. "Teams tend to fold if you come out and play hard in the beginning. So we want to come out and establish a lead and protect it."

The Lakers have done just about everything they have wanted defensively against Denver.

The first half got away from them in Game 4 but they stuffed the Nuggets the rest of the way, limiting Ty Lawson to five second-half points and continuing to silence shooting guard Arron Afflalo in a 92-88 victory.

Afflalo is averaging only nine points this series, well below the career-high 15.2 he averaged in the regular season.

Denver, which had the NBA's second-best offense in the regular season, has hit 100 points only once in this series. The Nuggets are shooting only 41%, way behind their 48% regular-season accuracy.

The Lakers want to keep it that way.

"We're at home. Nobody will be tired from the altitude or whatever," Bynum said. "Be aggressive."

Bearded wonder

Hockey players do it this time of year. The Clippers promised to do it too.

Was Bynum growing a playoff beard?

"I can't grow a beard," he said, indicating the scruff on his chin. "This took 24 years."

It was a lighter moment after another unpredictable week for the first-time All-Star. He was critical of his Game 2 performance and acknowledged not being ready for Game 3.

In Game 4, though, he had a solid 19 points on eight-for-12 shooting. He also blocked three shots.

"I thought he was engaged," Brown said. "I thought he did things well for us not only offensively in scoring the ball when he got touches, but also defensively."

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

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