Charles Dickens opened his classic novel, "A Tale Of Two Cities" by stating: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." That perfectly describes the Lakers 95-89 win over the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.
In what was considered a 'must' win for the Lakers, after losing their earlier two contests to the Nuggets; they started the game by playing their worst half of basketball this season. Displaying a total lack of motivation, emotion and attention to defense; Los Angeles committed 7 turnovers in the first quarter, which Denver converted into 10 points. The Lakers allowed the Nuggets to shoot 4-7 from 3 point range, as they seemed unwilling in making any kind of effort to contest long range shots.
Kobe Bryant, still struggling to regain his shooting prowess, went 1-4 from the field in the opening quarter, while picking up his 11th technical foul of the season.
The Nuggets started out the game displaying no fear of the defending World Champions. Playing with an unbridled energy, hunger and determination, they shot 9-13 from the free throw line in the opening quarter, while their LA counterparts went 1-2 from the charity stripe, enabling Denver to lead 29-21 at the end of the first quarter.
At one point in the second quarter, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum each had 3 personal fouls. Denver as a team had 6. In fact, at the half, Denver had shot 16-23 from the line, while the Lakers had gone 3-4. There's a difference of 13 points.
One glaring statistic was the Lakers committing 14 turnovers in the first half, and the Nuggets scoring 20 of their 52 first half points off those miscues. Poor passing and ball handling were the culprits; as well as several players suffering a malady known as a 'pulled muscle between the ears'.
The Nuggets had 8 turnovers in the opening 24 minutes, which the Lakers converted into just 7 points. Again, another 13 point difference.
Yet despite those two 13 point swings, the Lakers found themselves down by just 9 at the half, 52-43.
In the second half, the purple and gold woke up. They ratcheted up their defense; limiting the Nuggets to 37 points in the second half (18 in the third quarter and 19 in the fourth).
The Lakers came out in the third quarter shooting 4-6, while the Nuggets began 0-7. The Lakers began the quarter on a 10-2 run, which Denver would match moments later when they embarked on a 10-0 run in a span of 2:10, after seeing their lead shrink to 1 (54-53) with 7:56 to go in the third.
Ron Artest tied his season high of 6 steals, and the Lakers as a team had 7 (of their game total 16) steals in the third, which matched their total in the first half. Lamar Odom's fourth steal of the game enabled the Lakers to close the quarter on a 14-6 run.
An interesting stat from the third quarter was the Nuggets being called for 7 fouls in the quarter. That matched the total number of fouls that they were whistled for in the first half. The Lakers, whistled for 14 fouls in the first half, were called for just 5 in the second half.
The Lakers were able to finally tie the score at 70-70 just 12 seconds into the start of the fourth quarter. And, they took their first lead since 6-5 , when they moved ahead with 9:12 remaining. Starting the quarter shooting a blistering 7-9 from the field, their defense continued to press Denver, which started the final quarter shooting 2-9.
After Carmelo Anthony fouled out with 2:13 remaining in the game, the Nuggets were held scoreless the rest of the way. Speaking of 'Melo', while he ended up with 21 points, he shot 7-19 from the field, and committed 8 turnovers; mostly due to the tenacious defense by Ron Artest.
Lamar Odom came off the bench to score 20 points and grab 12 rebounds, in addition to 4 steals. Nine of his points and 8 of those rebounds came in the final quarter.
While Kobe Bryant finished a miserable 3-17 from the field, he did contribute a season high 12 assists.
The Lakers bench made a significant contribution, outscoring Denver's bench by a 35-15 margin.
One pressing concern has to be the recent, but becoming all too common, listless performance of center Andrew Bynum. Once again, he turned in minuscule numbers of 6 points (on 3-7 shooting) and 6 rebounds. It is unfathomable how a player of his size and ability, cannot seem to motivate himself into playing a more aggressive game on a regular basis. Too many times, Bynum is seen standing and watching what is going on, as if he is waiting for a bus. Perhaps the Lakers coaching staff should consider using a cattle prod to elicit some form of active movement from the 7 foot, 285 pound center, who is now in his fourth year as a pro.
Remember those Lakers turnover woes in the first half, when they committed 14? In the second half they had just 4. And those 20 points off turnovers that Denver scored in the first half? In the second half, they scored just 4. In fact, the Lakers outscored the Nuggets in the points off turnovers category, 13-2 in the second half, after the Nuggets had outscored them in the first half 20-7 in that category.
And those costly Denver free throws in the first half? The Nuggets went to the line only 10 times in the second half, while the Lakers got to the charity stripe 17 times.
Two halves of basketball, two totally different Laker teams. Charles Dickens described it best: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."