Nuggets 118, Lakers 112: At the buzzer

The 82-0 dream, she is dead. Long live the 81-1 dream!

Three up

Ron Artest

Offensively, I thought this was Ron's best game in some time. As his fellow starters struggled early in the first quarter, he connected for five quick points to help maintain pace then rounded out the night with 18 points on seven-of-11 shooting. More than just his efficient percentage, I liked how Ron muscled his way to the rim for several buckets. Artest can be a load down low, and it's always a welcome sight seeing use that power advantage. Throw in five boards, three blocks and two steals, and I thought he did a nice job offsetting some struggles guarding Carmelo Anthony.

Shannon Brown

19 points off the bench, and a consistent source of energy. On both ends of the floor, Brown found ways to stand out. Whether working a two-man game to help Pau Gasol get position against Nene for an eventual score, running down Gary Forbes to swat an otherwise uncontested layup or defying gravity on a putback of Matt Barnes' miss, Shannon demonstrated promise in his goal to improve his all-around game. He was also the only Laker guaranteed to make SportsCenter, courtesy of a spectacular dunk, even by his ridiculous standards. With J.R. Smith skying for the block, Brown double clutched the ball, avoided the defender's reach, then threw down with lightning speed. To say the least, an absolutely unreal display of athleticism, hard to believe possible even after watching several replays.

Another record for Kobe

He's now the youngest player in NBA history to reach 26,000 points, passing that dude from Conan The Destroyer. It wasn't Kobe's best night from the floor (11-32 for 34 points), often too centered around iso's and quick jumpers for my liking. But the achievement is nonetheless cool, so congrats to Bryant for his latest foray into the history books.

Three down


Against the Timberwolves on Tuesday, the Lakers were mentally checked out, their brains left at the door in reaction to an opponent regarded as a J.V. squad. Victory was still secured, but the lack of execution was impossible to miss. Tonight, the Lakers were completely engaged, but that doesn't guarantee a smart brand of basketball.

For the second consecutive game, the Lakers failed to consistently play disciplined and towards their strengths. Ball movement steadily decreased, and the passes that did emerge were rarely directed towards the middle. The shot selection was often terrible, lazy, and impatient. As a collective, they became smitten enough with the three-ball to prompt a love triangle with Antoine Walker. They also fouled poorly at times, sending various Nuggets to the line off weak fouls with no shot at preventing the ensuing and-one sequence.

Unlike Tuesday, the Lakers definitely worked hard. But that's not the same thing as working effectively, and the difference was eventually driven home in painful fashion.

Fourth quarter composure

Of all the time spent playing poorly, the overwhelming majority took place in the final frame, and there's no worse place to fall apart. 33 points surrendered. The ball was turned over five times, equaling their total over the previous three quarters. Second chance points weren't converted. Down just four with a minute to go, Kobe fired a fast trey early in the clock in lieu of setting up a play or just driving, indicative of the cool heads absent when needed the most. With fifteen seconds remaining, Gasol allowed himself to get swatted by Melo on a soft layup when a strong flush was mandatory. (The mishap reflected a night where Pau snagged 20 boards, but nonetheless struggled to create points down low.)

The Lakers are a veteran team with plenty of experience battling through adversity of considerably bigger magnitude. That doesn't change as the result of this loss, but more tangible evidence of this quality would have been appreciated.

Paint protection

54 points is an awfully high amount surrendered, particularly against a team missing two of their inside players (Kenyon Martin, Chris Anderson) and an aging point guard not known for heavy penetration.