In Game 5, Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher had their best performances of the series for L.A., which found its offensive rhythm with Kobe Bryant taking only 13 shots. This isn't a good sign for the Nuggets, who are facing elimination in this season's playoffs for the first time. Denver played from the lead for most of the first three quarters in Game 5, but its failure to execute on critical fourth-quarter possessions was the recurring storyline in their 103-94 loss.
Denver's defensive adjustments in Game 6 are more about consistent effort and execution in their scheme rather than a radical change in their tactics. Expect continued double-teaming of Bryant in an effort to get the ball out of his hands.
The Nuggets must trap Kobe harder and force him to make an escape pass away from the basket out of the trap. They can't allow him to make an assist to the basket, which he did three times in Game 5. The weakside defenders must flood the lane, taking away any lane or basket cuts, and force Bryant's pass toward half court.
Another point of emphasis will be eliminating the post baseline handoff from the wing, which led to some easy scores and Trevor Ariza's big three-point play in the fourth quarter. The Nuggets cannot allow these kinds of baskets to happen in Game 5, and Denver's defenders must stay attached to the passer and jam him chest to chest immediately on the post feed.
With L.A. expected to emphasize getting the ball inside (54 points in the paint in Game 5), the Nuggets must also fight and front with more consistency in the post, especially on ball reversal. In Game 6, the Nuggets must win the test of wills inside and establish defensive post position, and this will require winning multiple battles throughout each possession. Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen must use their quickness and anticipation to avoid piling up fouls trying to wrestle inside.
Cheap, unnecessary fouls must be eliminated in Game 6, from reach-ins on surrounded offensive players in the lane to buying shot fakes on the perimeter. These fouls bailed the Lakers out in Game 5 and gave them easy, unearned points. These, especially, are the kinds of fouls Nene can't pick up.
Offensively, the Nuggets must get more than seven shots from Chauncey Billups; on crucial possessions, high ball-screen action or top-of-the-floor isolations for Billups must be the offensive focus. This is especially important if Carmelo Anthony is not on the floor. Billups must be in rim-attack mode in Game 6.
In Game 6, Anthony cannot be on the bench at any point in the fourth quarter in a close game. With the game tied going into the fourth in Game 5, Denver's first two shots were from Kenyon Martin, and they tried to run action for J.R. Smith and attempted to post up Nene. By the time Anthony was back on the floor, the Nuggets were down by five. Any rest Melo gets in Game 6 should be brief and early.
The Lakers' emphasis on getting the ball inside paid huge dividends for them in Game 5. In Game 6, expect them to continue to focus in this area. The Lakers must continue to get good ball movement and multiple reversals in half-court sets, which will isolate Bynum, Pau Gasol and Odom inside on only one defender.
In Game 5, with the ball changing hands and sides of the floor quickly, the Lakers not only created opportunities inside but also opened up opportunities for everyone on the offensive end. Eight players took at least five shots, and no one took more than 15. With 25 assists on their 37 field goals, the Lakers played their best offensive game of the series.
That is the Lakers' formula for winning Game 6, and they must be deliberate in their emphasis of quick ball movement and reversal to get the ball inside and to keep everyone involved. This also takes the pressure off Bryant and keeps him fresh for the key possessions in the fourth quarter.
With Denver's trapping of Bryant to be expected in Game 6, the Lakers must continue making hard flashes to the ball and to the basket when he is double-teamed. They must beat rotating Nuggets defenders to the ball, and not allow run-through steals or deflections that lead to fast breaks and dunks, which will fuel the Denver crowd.
In Game 5, the Lakers struggled once again to control their defensive glass, giving up 14 offensive rebounds. The Nuggets shot 38 percent from the floor, but their offensive boards bailed them out by producing some cheap second-chance points. Denver built a third-quarter lead on the strength of an offensive rebound off a free throw by Andersen, and a Dahntay Jones rebound that led to an Anthony 3-pointer.
Playing through the entire possession and getting all five defenders in the paint will be critical in Game 5. This is especially true for Fisher and Shannon Brown, who played a combined 41 minutes and did not get a single rebound. Preventing the flying putback dunks will be a big part of keeping the crowd in check.
Bottling up Anthony with an extra defender on the ball side also will be an emphasis for the Lakers in Game 6. But they must keep him going to the baseline side and not allow him to split back to the middle on his drives. With Melo likely to play with increased desperation facing elimination, the Lakers must keep him shooting jumpers and away from the rim.
Smith's second-unit scoring is a key for Denver's offense. In Denver's losses in Games 3 and 5, 20 of Smith's 28 shots were 3-pointers, and he shot 2-for-10 and 1-for-10 from 3, respectively, in those games. He must get back to a better balance between driving and shooting as he did in Game 4, when he scored 24 points while shooting 5-for-8 on 2s and 4-for-9 on 3s.
Odom and Fisher combined for 31 points in Game 5, and all five Lakers on the second unit scored. This type of production from the supporting cast must be there again in Game 6.
The Lakers are coming off their best game of the series, and the opportunity to close out the Nuggets and get some rest should give them all the urgency they need. But this is a script the Lakers have trouble following.
Denver is angry, wounded and frustrated with the officiating, and they'll have the crowd behind them back home. This could be the perfect formula for a blowout win. But the pressure of elimination could factor in if they find themselves in another close game down the stretch.
And that's not where the Nuggets want to be with The Mamba ready to strike, because this is also the perfect formula for a snubbed MVP to make his closing statement.
Lakers win Game 6
Mike Moreau is the director of basketball for the Pro Training Center and The Basketball Academy at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla. He also serves as an NBA analyst for Hoopsworld.
Synergy Sports Technology systems were used in the preparation of this report.