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Lakers-Nuggets: 5 things to watch in Game 5

May 08, 2012|By Mark Medina
  • Kobe Bryant and the Lakers can close out their series against the Denver Nuggets in five games Tuesday night  one day before the Clippers can do the same against the Memphis Grizzlies.
Kobe Bryant and the Lakers can close out their series against the Denver… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Things to watch when the Lakers play the Denver Nuggets Tuesday night at Staples Center. The Lakers have a 3-1 series lead.

1. The Lakers need to get off to a fast start. The opening minutes will provide a good gauge on how each team views this series. Will Denver pour everything it has on the floor to avoid elimination or will it show resignation that the Lakers will likely advance to the next round? Will the Lakers build on their 12-1 mark in closeout games since 2008 or will they use this series cushion as an excuse to slack off? Should L.A. lose this game, it doesn't automatically spell doom. But it makes things unnecessarily difficult considering they'll already have their hands full battling the Thunder in the second round. Likewise, a slow start won't necessarily yield a loss, but it will be the easiest way to break the Nuggets' spirit and put this game away early.

2. Who will control the rebounding battle? This category will largely determine whether the Lakers can control the pace or if Denver pushes in transition. The effort will largely reflect the Lakers' effort level, most notably from Andrew Bynum. And the statistics show that this area will largely forecast how close Denver remains in the game. The Nuggets outrebounded the Lakers in Game 2 (52-48), making the game respectable, and in Game 3 (54-48), making the game laughable.

That all changed in Game 4. After Denver forwards Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee combined for 30 rebounds in Game 3, the Lakers held them to 11 in Game 4. Everything changed because Bynum showed more aggressiveness, Jordan Hill continued his pleasant run off the bench and everyone included the backcourt boxed out. It's possible the Nuggets might take the same approach, but the Lakers' size will prove to be too much so long as they match it.

3. Will Kobe Bryant overcome his shooting struggles? Chalk up his 17-of-48 clip the past two games in Denver for a number of reasons. Blame it on the altitude, the booing or just the season-long trend in which he's struggled from the field at Pepsi Center. In reality, Bryant simply missed difficult shots he normally made in the first two games. The good thing about Bryant in this series is he has shown trust in his teammates by setting them up for shots when he faces double teams. So it shouldn't be surprising if Bryant follows the same approach tonight. Except this time, his shots may actually drop in the basket.

4. Will the Lakers present another wild-card performance? Every Lakers' win has featured a supporting cast member elevating their play. Devin Ebanks scored 12 first-half points in Game 1 as he replaced Metta World Peace at starting small forward because of his suspension. Jordan Hill remained active on the glass in both Games 2 and 4, ensuring double-digit rebounds. Ramon Sessions had 10 fourth-quarter points in Game 2, while hitting an open three-pointer that gave the Lakers a three-point lead with 48 seconds remaining in Game 4. Besides horrific Games 2 and 3, Steve Blake hit three three-pointers in Game 1 and iced the game with another trey in Game 4. As much as the Lakers' success hinges on their Big Three in Bryant, Pau Gasol and Bynum, they always need an extra member who can hit open shots when double teams persist.

5. The Lakers are better equipped to win a close game. Should this game go down to the final minutes, the Lakers appear better suited to close it out. The Nuggets showed in Game 4 that they don't have a definitive idea who should take the final shots, while the Lakers have a whole litany of options. Of course Bryant would look for his shot, but the Lakers have shown in Games 2 and 4 that they don't have to rely solely on his heroics. Game 2 featured Bryant making a key defensive stop and then setting up Bynum on the break, while Sessions took the game over offensively. Game 4 featured Gasol finding Sessions after setting a good screen on Danilo Gallinari and then Bryant facilitating to an open Blake after drawing a double team. So long as the Lakers make the right plays late in the game, they should have no problem prevailing.


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