And coach George Karl thinks it boils down to controlling the paint, preventing Lakers center Andrew Bynum from dominating down low.
Or the trick to turning this series around could be something as simple as this: Playing with a lead for once.
See, the Nuggets haven’t even led for so much as one trip down the floor in falling into a 2-0 hole against the Lakers. That’s why the Nuggets are hoping for a fast start in Game 3 on Friday night at Pepsi Center.
They hope to jump out on top and get the boisterous crowd into the action early.
Maybe that will provide a spark.
“We definitely have to have a good start, especially at home and especially against them,” Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari said.
Denver was blown out in Game 1 as Bynum posted a triple-double with 10 points, 10 blocks and 13 rebounds in a 103-88 rout.
But there was a point in Game 2 when Denver had the Lakers a little nervous. Trailing by as many as 19 in the third quarter, the Nuggets stormed back to make it a game, only to fade at the finish and fall 104-100.
They’re trying to use that furious comeback as motivation for Game 3. It’s given them confidence in a series where Kobe Bryant and Bynum have been so difficult to defend.
“In the second half, looked like we played with a lot of heart,” Lawson said. “Played our game for the first time in the series. If we get that into the game on Friday, then I think we have a good chance of winning.”
The Nuggets’ brand of basketball is predicated on speeding up the court. That’s not usually a solid recipe for the postseason, when teams tend to run more of a half-court system.
But they’ll keep pushing the pace and trying to wear down a Lakers team that doesn’t easily exhaust.
“When we do get the ball, just run them, because they’re not that fast,” Lawson said.
Lawson has hardly turned in the type of postseason he would’ve envisioned. He struggled in the opener—finishing with as many assists (2) as turnovers— before finding his rhythm in the second game with a team-high 25 points.
He insisted he needs to attack more against the Lakers, taking the action right to the big men.
Oh, and help out on the glass when he can.
“That’s the big thing,” Lawson said. “That’s the No. 1 key we need to do — get Bynum off the boards. From us guards, if there’s nobody around us, go hit a big. Go get in Bynum’s body, bump him, make sure he doesn’t get a rebound.”
Easier said than done.
So far, Bynum is having a fantastic series. Bryant, too—but that’s to be expected.
Bryant put up a stellar performance in Game 2, scoring 38 points on a rather efficient 15-of-29 shooting.
“He’s one of the best,” Gallinari said. “When he has those kinds of games, there’s not a lot to things you can do.”
Especially when he’s this well rested. Bryant missed eight of the last 10 regular-season games and now he looks almost fresher on the floor.
“I thought the break was good for him, because I had been playing him a lot of minutes, too, probably more than you want,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said. “When you have the luxury of a guy like Kobe, you might ask him to do a bit more than you’d like, so it was good for him to sit out a few games and get his body back to where it was. It was a good thing for him.”
The player flying under the radar is Pau Gasol, a versatile center who has Karl quite concerned. Gasol has been doing a little bit of everything for the Lakers.
“The numbers say Bynum and Kobe are killing us. I might vote for saying, get Gasol off the court,” Karl said, grinning. “His decisions and feel for the game are contagious.”
Bryant couldn’t agree more.
“Pau has always been willing to do anything for victory for us,” Bryant said. “We’re fortunate to have him here, because he’s a rare breed, a guy who doesn’t really demand the ball all the time. So it allows me and Andrew to do what we do, and he’s still able to be very effective in what he does anyway. He has a huge impact on the team.”
With his team against the wall, Karl was asked if he thought they could climb their way back into the series.
“If you followed us all year long, every time everybody thought the worst was going to happen, it never happened,” Karl said. “Yeah, I believe in them and I trust in them. We’re not this consistent, perfect team. We have to do some things to make our motor go, but when it goes, it’s pretty good. I think it’s going to go on Friday night.”
The Lakers are certainly preparing for just that.
“They’re great at home, so we’ve got to try to control the tempo for 48 minutes and not let them get up and down the court like they want to do,” Lakers point guard Ramon Sessions said. “They’re definitely going to come out with a sense of urgency, because at this time of the year, it’s win or go home.”
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed to this report.