Chris Carlson/Associated Press
Chris Carlson/Associated Press
DENVER – The Denver Nuggets figure the way to quit getting beaten inside and out by the Los Angeles Lakers is to get them running up and down the court.
Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum combined for 65 points in Los Angeles’ 104-100 victory Tuesday night that gave the Lakers a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series that shifts to the Pepsi Center on Friday night.
After falling behind early, the younger, quicker Nuggets picked up the pace and made a game of it. Now, they’ll try to duplicate their up-tempo style to make this a competitive series.
Denver’s transition game is fueled by Ty Lawson and Corey Brewer, but the Nuggets have to tighten things up on defense, force Bryant to take tougher shots and clear out Bynum underneath.
“Pace is huge, but we have to get stops,” Lawson said. “You can’t run after their make on a dunk or a 3. It’s easier to run when you get a rebound. The main thing is we have to get stops.”
Both players took solace in their second-half surge in Game 2 that cooled off Bryant and Bynum – if just for a bit.
“We have to do that from the beginning of the game,” Brewer said. “We have to run it.”
Too often so far, Bynum has cleaned up the glass on put-back dunks off misses by Bryant or Paul Gasol, and that’s thwarted the Nuggets’ superior speed.
“We’ve been doubling him the whole time. But offensive put-backs is the main way he scores,” Lawson said.
Bryant was scoring from all over. He made 15 baskets in 29 attempts and finished with 38 points in Game 2.
“When he’s making shots like that, when you are in his face, it’s tough for us to guard that,” Lawson said. “You have to put a hand in his face and hope he misses.”
And then pray that Kenneth Faried, JaVale McGee or Kosta Koufos outmuscles Bynum for the board.
“He’s playing with tremendous energy,” Nuggets coach George Karl said about Bynum. “He’s the biggest body in the NBA, the most difficult body to keep away from the rim, and everybody has problems with him. We double-teamed him pretty well in the first game. The last game they did a better job of keeping our double-team man occupied a little bit.”
The Lakers enjoy a huge edge in experience in this series, and it’s shown.
“They are a vet team. We have three guys from last year’s team,” Lawson said. “We are still a fairly new team.”
One that can’t capitalize on its superior speed when Bryant is knocking down tough shots and Bynum is cleaning up the glass.
“I think it’s the experience of their stars between Gasol and Kobe,” Karl said. “Gasol doesn’t put great numbers up, but he’s probably their best passer out there on the court, and he just understands what’s going on as well as anyone on the court. For a 7-1 guy to do that is pretty incredible stuff. I guess Kobe’s will to win the game falls under experience. It’s a mental talent.
“Our players have to understand we need five, maybe six guys playing at a high level to win. They might only need two or three.”
The Nuggets, who lost the series opener 103-88, believe they’ve finally found their rhythm known as “playoff basketball.”
“(Tuesday) night’s game was great,” Karl said Wednesday. “I thought we were really good (Tuesday) night in the second half. Had a chance to quit on the game, and we didn’t. We came back and had a chance to win the game.
“I’m not happy with how we are shooting the ball and some other things. I thought it was a great step for us. I thought we moved forward in a positive way to be ready for Friday night. You want to win the game, but the step we took was the next best thing.”
Karl spent Wednesday preaching about correcting the little things.
“My talk (Wednesday) was about rebounding and taking care of the paint more than it’s about Bynum and Kobe,” Karl said. “We can figure out situations, but we can’t give up lay-ups as much as we’ve been giving them up, and we can’t give them second shots. We have to get more conscience about rebounding the ball after we make stops. Our defensive stops on first shots is pretty good.”
The Nuggets’ terrific transition game is predicated on making stops and kicking the ball out quickly.
“We have to think more about more defensive playmaking than rebounding the ball,” Karl said. “If we get that into a game, I think our offense will be productive.”
They might be facing a man on a mission, however.
After scoring a career playoff-high 27 points Tuesday night, Bynum insisted he wasn’t satisfied.
“I’m going to go home and watch the mistakes I made,” Bynum said. “I just left a lot out there. I can do better. I want to be perfect.”
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed to this report.