By Arash Markazi
May 28, 2009

LOS ANGELES -- Standing in front of his locker after the Lakers beat the Nuggets 103-94 (RECAP | BOX) to take a 3-2 series lead in the Western Conference finals Wednesday, Kenyon Martin simply shook his head each time he was asked about the officiating late in the game.

"I can't say what I want to say," the Denver forward said. "It's going to cost me a couple dollars. I'm going to save my money, man. The Lakers played hard and did what they had to do."

Martin echoed the sentiments of most of the Nuggets, who looked as frustrated and befuddled as the Lakers did after their Game 4 loss in Denver. They bit their lips as reporters asked them about being called for 30 fouls to the Lakers' 22, including 11 in the fourth quarter to the Lakers' four.

"I thought they got the benefit of the whistle," said coach George Karl, who chuckled when he was asked about the officiating. "It's just very frustrating for me to sit here and have to worry like it's a gamesmanship in the press conference about officiating."

After Game 4, Lakers coach Phil Jackson criticized the officiating and was fined $25,000 for it. It was a fine he was upset with before the game ("It doesn't matter if it was $10, parking tickets still bother me," he said) but one that also did exactly what he intended it to. Jackson, who makes $11 million a year, has been known to gladly take $25,000 hits during the postseason to get a point across about officiating.

When asked if he was playing mind games with the officials in the hopes that they would see things his way, he said, "I hope so. God, I hope so. That would be really good, wouldn't it?" And when asked if he was planting seeds in their minds about their calls, he smiled and said, "I'm a gardener, constantly."

"That's not part of coaching for me," Karl said. "I mean, Melo [Carmelo Anthony] got beat up tonight. I'm not going to get fined. I'm not going to get into that game that Phil is so much better at than I am, so much more philosophical about the whistle and how it changed."

The Nuggets' frustration stems from knowing that they have outplayed the Lakers in four of the five games yet will face elimination Friday in Denver. In Game 5, they led by as many as seven late in the third quarter and were tied after every quarter before getting outscored 27-18 in the final period beginning with an 11-0 run.

"For most of the series, we outplayed them for most stretches of the game," said Chauncey Billups, who had 12 points and five assists. "We just couldn't get over the hump in the fourth in a few of those situations. There's really no excuse. I'm a no-excuse kind of guy."

That wasn't the case, however, for most of the Nuggets, who whispered to each other how they weren't playing only the Lakers at Staples Center. It's a sentiment that's also been echoed by the Magic in their series against LeBron James and the Cavaliers. The difference is, unlike the Magic, who are one game away from advancing to the NBA Finals, the Nuggets are one game away from being eliminated.

"It was a difficult whistle to play, no question about that," Karl said. "Every player in my locker room is frustrated, from guards to big guys. Look at the stat sheet. [Pau] Gasol goes after at least 20 jump shots, 20 shots to the rim and gets one foul; our big guys have 16. I don't know. Nene has six fouls; three or four of them don't exist. I think [Magic coach] Stan Van Gundy is right. In the postseason, we're lobbying for the league to help us with the refereeing."

For all their complaints, however, Anthony hit 12-of-13 free throws, more than any other player in the game, and the Lakers attempted only five more free throws than the Nuggets. While Denver was called for eight more fouls, that difference coming in the fourth quarter, there wasn't an abnormal number of bad calls or missed calls in comparison to the first four games.

For the Nuggets, there was some solace in the fact that they were returning to Denver, where they defeated the Lakers by 19 points Monday, and a sense of confidence that they could beat the Lakers in Los Angeles (as they did in Game 2) if the series returned here for Game 7 on Sunday.

"We know that we can beat this team, we're confident in that," said Billups. "We'll be back Sunday."

Before leaving the locker room, Martin continued to laugh off questions about the officiating.

"I'm going to save my money because if I start, I'm not going to stop," said Martin, looking at Billups. "I already gave them $25,000 of my money [for a fine earlier in the playoffs]. I got an 8-, 6- and 4-year-old. That's it. What do you say, Smooth?"

"Smooth" Billups simply smiled and said, "Hey, it's the NBA, where amazing happens, right?"

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