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Sleeping dogs woke, and Nuggets may make Lakers regret it

Denver, which hasn't felt much respect from the Lakers, has won two of the last three games and is starting to believe it can pull off an upset.

May 09, 2012|By Ben Bolch

George Karl tends to get up early when he's home in Denver.

Having two black Labrador retrievers that expect to be fed at sunrise can create that habit.

It was during a reflective moment just after daybreak Monday that something dawned on the Denver Nuggets coach.

"I sat on my porch and just kept saying to myself, 'They're not that much better than we are,' " Karl recalled Wednesday.

He was referring to the Lakers, who were supposed to easily brush aside Karl's Nuggets in their first-round playoff series on the way to bigger challenges.

But here are the teams, headed to a Game 6 in Denver on Thursday after Andrew Bynum opened his mouth and the Nuggets shut down every player not named Kobe Bryant in a 102-99 Game 5 victory. The Lakers have lost two of the last three games after taking a seemingly commanding 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Might there be something to Karl's pre-series assertion that Denver's "teamness" could trump the Lakers' talent? The coach ticked off the contributions of practically every one of his players when he reflected on his team's most recent triumph.

JaVale McGee was likened to Hall of Famer Connie Hawkins. Andre Miller drew raves for his passing touch. Kenneth Faried, Arron Afflalo and Danilo Gallinari were praised for their rebounding. Al Harrington got a gold star for his ability to space the floor. Even Timofey Mozgov was singled out for his defensive toughness on Bynum.

"We didn't have one of those, 'Well, we're not getting much out of this guy' games," Karl said. "We got something out of everybody."

Including Bynum. The Lakers center irked the Nuggets when he said on the eve of the game that "close-out games are actually kind of easy."

The words found their way onto the film Karl showed his team in their game preparations and haven't been forgotten.

"We'll probably just put that up again and pretend like we never heard it before," Denver point guard Ty Lawson said, smiling.

The Lakers might have inadvertently tweaked their opponent again late Tuesday. Written in black on the white board inside the Lakers' locker room after their defeat: "Pack for 3 games."

Stuffing their suitcases for an extended trip could be interpreted to mean the Lakers are assuming a victory over the Nuggets, which would then send them directly to Oklahoma City for the first two games of the Western Conference semifinals.

"All right, cool," Lawson said when informed of the white-board message. "That's more material we can use."

The Nuggets lingered at their Marina del Rey hotel on Wednesday morning before taking a midday flight to Denver. Karl said the pressure is still on his team, which is one loss from elimination and one victory from forcing a winner-take-all Game 7 on Saturday at Staples Center.

"After Game 3, you start speculating and building circumstances in how the series could play out and then things take a huge twist if you lose," Afflalo said. "Well, we know the twist if we lose now."

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