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Lakers winning with ‘D'
LOS ANGELES – The star of Game 1 shot the ball seven times.
Much of the talk entering Tuesday was about the legality of how the Lakers had stopped Denver.
Then, before Game 2 was even a minute old, the Staples Center crowd was chanting "DEEE-fense."
DEEE-fense? That's the desire? Here? So soon?
Lakers fans have chanted "DEEE-fense" in the past, sure. But they usually waited to do so until the final 60 seconds, not the first.
So far in this series, the final 60 seconds haven't mattered as much as the Nuggets would like. The Lakers won Game 2, 104-100, with a little late drama but have not yet faced as much as a deficit in these playoffs.
This first-round matchup isn't over. As Denver coach George Karl noted before tipoff Tuesday, "It's the first one to four (victories), not the first one to one." And, if you don't think nearly anything is possible in the NBA, you didn't witness what the Clippers did Sunday.
But with things now shifting to Colorado, the Nuggets are going to need the thin air and a whole lot more to find resuscitation.
They better hope the altitude robs Kobe Bryant of his legs and has the rest of the Lakers gasping to keep their legs under them.
Running is the only way the Nuggets can make this difficult on the Lakers, who, when the games slow down, can really answer the calls of "DEEE-fense."
If this team is capable of assembling a deep postseason run this spring, it will be one of the more un-L.A. runs of all-time. It will be built on the basketball fundamentals — the boring fundamentals — of defense and rebounding.
Defense is what Mike Brown brought to this team and this town when he was hired to be the Lakers coach. It's not an easy sell. Let's be honest. L.A. isn't a defense kind of town. Defense doesn't twinkle or titillate. Defense generally is as sexy as Santa Claus.
If the Lakers are winning and going deep, fine. "DEEE-fense, DEEE-fense, DEEE-fense" it is. But if they aren't winning, Mike Brown will be renamed Mike Beige and his style officially will be the lamest thing in Laker colors since Smush Parker.
It took Andrew Bynum blocking 10 shots in Game 1 — more than any Laker ever in a postseason game — to make it OK for Staples Center to go wild over points not being scored.
Bryant has been repeating the theme for much of this season's second half. He maintains this team is championship-capable because of defense and rebounding.
He mentioned it again to ESPN recently, and the claim apparently sounded so bizarre that it led to spirited debate on the network throughout Tuesday morning.
Rest assured, this is still L.A. and still Lakers basketball. Bryant's electric offensive performance in Game 2 — 38 points, a number of ridiculous baskets — was straight out of the early 2000s. When he dunked early and eluded 60 percent of the Nuggets on the floor en route to the rim, no one was thinking about defense.
And, as Denver tightened things late, closing to within four points, what was the crowd chanting then? What was on their minds? "We want tacos!" The reference was to a promotion the Lakers have where the fans can receive free tacos from a fast-food chain.
Minutes before the opening tipoff, one of the referees had to come down to where the Lakers were warming up to get Pau Gasol for the pregame meeting at center court. Gasol was preoccupied and didn't realize he was needed. He was busy talking courtside to David Beckham.
Yeah, this is still L.A. and still Staples Center. Karl was asked about the difficulties of winning in the postseason on the road.
"This is not a hot building," he said. "This is kind of a stage, a Broadway stage. It has a history and an energy to it, but it's not one of those where you can't hear...This is more of a stage than an intense building like Oklahoma City or something like that."
Karl was the one who initiated the discussion about the Lakers cheating defensively in Game 1. He claimed that Bynum picked up his 10 blocks in part because the referees permitted him to anchor his 7-foot body in the lane.
"He's doing what a lot of coaches do," Brown said. "A lot of coaches do that in the playoffs, you know. Officials are human. They read the newspaper. Subconsciously, they might take it into account...Coach Karl is doing his job."
And Coach Brown is doing his job. His Lakers are up 2-0 going to Denver in round one.
Coach Brown is off to a good start, yes. But Coach Beige will always be lurking.
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