It was a perfect exclamation point for a 119-108 win that, frankly, wasn't that close for most of Monday night — an active, springy, endlessly energetic member of the Denver Nuggets leaping up and over a tired, lethargic-looking member of the Los Angeles Lakers to provide a spectacular at-the-rim finish to a play set up by quick, decisive actions and passes, and, as Benjamin Hochman of the Denver Post wrote, boundless confidence:
Andre Iguodala didn't even look. He just knew, because, darn it, it was that kind of night.
With his back to the basket near the paint, he received a pass and, like a hockey one-timer, flung the thing toward the basket. So what if Dwight Howard was there? Kenneth Faried soared above the 7-footer and unleashed a slam, a sixth-sense assist for Iguodala.
"Andre just had belief in me and I was like, 'You know what? I'm just going to throw it,'" Faried said. "And Dwight did get a hand on it. I was kind of nervous, but I was able to secure it with two hands and just finish it."
It was no surprise, too, that Faried was the beneficiary and Howard the victim; the sophomore power forward's perpetual motion can be, and has been, an absolute nightmare for the bigger and — whether due to injury, fatigue, lack of engagement or all of the above — step-or-two-slower Howard. That was the case back in December, when L.A. entered Denver's thin air on the second night of a back-to-back, the Nuggets beat the Lakers by 12, and Howard took out his frustration by laying a third-quarter flagrant foul on Faried that led to an ejection and a $35,000 fine.
After that game, Faried told Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register that Howard lashed out because "he was just mad [...] I was getting in his head, and he couldn't get the rebound. He wanted to, but I kept getting every rebound. It's not like I said anything or talked to him." Well, their last interaction on Monday — capping a 12-point, 10-rebound, three-block, two-steal night for "The Manimal" — spoke pretty loudly for itself.
Faried-on-Howard was just one of a highlight reel of athletic at-the-rim smashes authored on Monday by a Nuggets team that came out of the gate flying — 35 first-quarter points, 26 coming in the paint and 10 coming off fast breaks, with 10 assists on 15 made baskets and a 65.2 percent mark from the floor — and just never stopped.
The Nuggets came into Monday night leading the league in fast-break points scored per game, averaging 19.2 per contest, according to NBA.com's stat tool, and the Lakers came into the game tied with the Sacramento Kings for the worst fast-break defense in the league, allowing 16 points per game. Denver scored 33 fast-break points against the Lakers. (L.A. scored only three.)
The Nuggets came into Monday night leading the league in points scored in the paint per game, averaging 56.8 a night, according to NBA.com's stat tool, and the Lakers came into the game giving up the fourth-highest points-in-the-paint average in the league at 44.4 points per game. Denver scored 78 points in the paint against the Lakers. (L.A. scored 50.)
The Nuggets came into Monday night scoring 1.17 points per possession in transition, the sixth-most efficient mark in the NBA; the Lakers entered the evening allowing that exact same amount in transition, ranking 24th among 30 NBA teams, according to Synergy Sports Technology. Denver averaged 1.35 PPP on Monday, scoring on nearly two-thirds of their transition opportunities and shooting a sterling 70.4 percent (19 for 27) from the floor.
All of which is to say: It's not surprising that perhaps the league's best open-court and interior offense would have a field day with perhaps the league's worst open-court and interior defense. But it was still pretty damn impressive, and the Lakers admitted as much after the game, according to Arnie Stapleton of The Associated Press:
"The fast-break point, that's a killer," Kobe Bryant said. "That team is like a track team over there." [...]
"They just ran out of the starter's blocks and beat us down the floor," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "... We couldn't catch them. We just couldn't catch them. For whatever reason, they just took off. Even on just a missed shot, we couldn't get back quick enough." [...]
"It's tough to neutralize speed, especially when they're very good at what they do," Bryant said. "Yeah, their speed. Their speed got us. They got out on transition, got easy buckets. Kept the pressure on us. [...] Their speed was something that was tough for us to adjust to all night long. They continually pushed the ball down our throats. Shots go up and those guys are already leaking out, to go along with the speed. They got a lot of easy buckets because of it."
Whereas, as it's been for most of the season, virtually nothing came easy for the Lakers, who dropped to 28-30, three games behind the Houston Rockets for the eighth and final playoff spot out West.
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