Lakers guard Kobe Bryant goes to the court in an attempt to keep Nuggets forward… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Below are some things to take away from the Lakers' 113-96 Game 6 loss Thursday to the Denver Nuggets:
1. The Lakers should feel embarassed. I'll break down in more detail in the items below, but the score should speak for itself. For the second consecutive game, the Lakers lacked energy, focus and any consistent production outside of Kobe Bryant in a closeout game. The Lakers still have a chance to secure this first-round series with a victory in Game 7, which is taking place at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Staples Center, but with how well they played at the beginning of the series, it should've never gotten to this point.
After appearing focused and motivated from last season's early playoff exit, the Lakers have reverted to their old style where they believe they could just go through the motions. Meanwhile, Denver has steadily improved, leaned on nearly every player in its rotation and has continually gained confidence. The concerns go beyond losing rest and preparation for a second-round series against Oklahoma City. At this point, Denver has a really good shot to win this series. And, based on how the Lakers have played in the last two closeout games, it shouldn't be surprising at all if they fall in the first round.
2. Kobe Bryant fought through his flu and provided more effort than his teammates. Moments before entering the court, Bryant sat on the bench with his eyes closed and a stoic expression. Despite receiving IV fluid before the game, Bryant hardly looked like he felt fully recovered from flu symptoms. But as Bryant always does, he showed up to work and performed. If not for his 31 points on 14-of-23 shooting, the Lakers would've walked out of Pepsi Center as a glorifiedD-League team.
Bryant received more IV bags (four) than Pau Gasol scored points (three). Bryant's fatigue was obvious. At times, he overreached on defense. And his frustration may have boiled over when he committed a flagrant foul on Kenneth Faried. But Bryant provided more effort than his teammates in both closing out on shooters and preventing baseline drives. It's hardly a coincidence that his 21-foot jumper with 8:25 left in the first quarter marked the Lakers' first field goal after missing their eight consecutive shots.
This should enrage Bryant for many reasons. For the second consecutive game, Bryant was forced to bail out his teammates. They hardly even looked interested in trying to match his effort. He likely feels even worse because of his health. It proves that his will and talent aren't going to be enough to carry the Lakers however far they actually get in the playoffs. And the Lakers will have to expend more energy in Game 7 when they should be preparing for Oklahoma City.
3. Pau Gasol had his worst game as a Laker. Think handling those trade rumors were tough? Try dealing with scrutiny after another playoff unraveling for the second consecutive year. Gasol's three points on one-of-10 shooting and three rebounds harkened back images of a similar showing in last year's playoffs against the Dallas Mavericks when he averaged a tepid 13.1 points on 42.9% shooting.
Gasol lacked aggression on offense. He immediately passed out of double teams even when he had room to operate. Gasol settled on too many mid-range jumpers. He didn't record his first field goal until the 1:20 mark in the second quarter.
He also lacked aggression on defense. Gasol routinely sagged back in transition. He rarely put a body on anyone to get rebounds. And his lack of energy starkly contrasted the effort provided from Kenneth Faried (15 points, 12 rebounds). Gasol epitomized his lackluster play most notably when Faried beat him off a baseline cut in the third quarter for a basket while drawing a foul, prompting Gasol to turn his head to see who he'd consider responsible for the mishap. The only problem: Gasol was the one.
By going a combined five-of-14 from the field in the last two games, Gasol is evaporating the good will he earned by proving to be a reliable mid-range shooter and facilitator in the first four games of the series. Should the Lakers not win Game 7, the lasting image among fans will surely point to his Game 6 effort.
4. Andrew Bynum was unreliable once again. The opening possessions epitomized Bynum's lack of aggression. Nuggets center Timofey Mozgov and Nuggets guard Ty Lawson (??) blocked Bynum's first two shots. His third attempt on a three-foot shot then fell short. His 11 points on four-of-11 shooting and 16 rebounds might have only looked bad on paper because of his shooting percentage. But his body language and demeanor suggested he hardly cared, especially when he continuously sat out of team huddles late in the game. The only hustle he provided was on the glass. But he lacked effort everywhere else, ranging from setting up in post position, getting back on defense and rotating on defense.