For the first time in the conference finals, Lakers look like a No. 1 seed
LOS ANGELES -- Five notes and observations from the Lakers' near flawless 103-94 victory
"I thought we played our best game tonight," said
But you have to dig deep if you want to criticize the Lakers after this one.
Denver has low-post options. Really. Anthony is a beast when he gets the ball in deep, and
"I thought they got the benefit of the whistle," Karl said. "It was a very difficult whistle to play, no question about that. Every player in my locker room is frustrated, from guards to big men."
A particular source of frustration for Karl was the officiating of Gasol, who was called for just one foul in 45 minutes.
"Gasol goes after at least 20 jump shots, 20 shots to the rim and gets one foul," Karl said. "Our big guys have 16. I don't know. Nene has six fouls; three or four of them don't exist."
Karl's frustration is understandable and certainly the case can be made that Gasol hacked more than one player, but overall the officiating was relatively even. Anthony (12-of-13) went to the line more than Bryant (9-of-10), and as a team the Lakers shot five more free throws (35-30) than Denver. It seemed like in the fourth quarter the referees decided to put their whistles in their pockets, but the physical play was being allowed on both ends. It was hardly one-sided.
Scribbled in large letters on the white board in the Nuggets' locker room were the words "keep composure." Good advice for a team that has racked up six technical fouls in the last three games. But instead of learning from their mistakes, the Nuggets continue to make them.
All of us (myself included) have praised Billups for breathing life into the Nuggets this season. But with Denver facing elimination for the first time, Billups needs to provide the type of leadership for which he has been given credit. There will be an uncomfortable tension when the Nuggets take the floor Friday, the kind of anxiety that only comes when your season is on the line. Billups must calm his teammates and establish a rhythm early. Players can't stress over every turnover and get down on themselves after every missed shot. The Lakers are all too familiar with what it takes to close out a series and have the best finisher in the game in Bryant. They will be looking for the kill. It will be incumbent on Billups to prepare his team for that.