NBA: Nuggets save their worst for last game as Lakers romp
By Jake Schaller
The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo.
DENVER — The Denver Nuggets played their worst game of the postseason at the worst possible time.
And the best season in franchise history ended with a thud.
With their playoff lives on the line and a home crowd of 20,053 on their side Friday night, the Nuggets were blown out by the Los Angeles Lakers, 119-92.
The Lakers, who won the best-of-seven Western Conference finals series four games to two, advanced to the NBA Finals for the second straight season and 30th time in their storied history. And they brought Denver’s remarkable turnaround season to an abrupt end.
“I told my (coaching) staff, forget about tonight — tonight wasn’t Nuggets basketball,” Denver coach George Karl said. “And I apologize to the Nugget fans, who have been fantastic, that we didn’t deliver a better performance.”
While the Nuggets played a game to forget, the Lakers, according to Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson, saved their best game for last.
Los Angeles shot 57.3 percent from the floor, including 56.3 percent from 3-point range, and had five players in double figures.
Guard Kobe Bryant led the way with 35 points on 12-of-20 shooting from the field, and center Pau Gasol and forward Lamar Odom added 20 apiece.
“They were great,” Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups said. “It’s the best game I’ve seen them play all series, definitely.”
Denver seemed off its game from the start, making just 14-of-38 (36.8 percent) shots in the first half with Carmelo Anthony and Billups combining to go 4-of-15.
Los Angeles was sloppy enough in the first quarter and a half to let the Nuggets stay close, and when J.R. Smith tipped in a missed Linas Kleiza layup with 7:17 to play in the second quarter, Denver led 33-32.
The Nuggets, however, managed just one field goal the rest of the half, and in that time Los Angeles went on a 21-7 run to build a 53-40 halftime advantage.
Near the end of the halftime break, Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin”’ was played at the Pepsi Center. It was a nice sentiment, but belief was hard to come by — especially by late in the quarter when the Lakers were up by 20.
The Nuggets made several brief runs in the final 15 minutes but never got closer than 12 points.
Despite the poor finish, Karl, Billups and Anthony stayed mostly positive after the game.
The Nuggets were considered by most NBA experts to be a lottery team at the start of the season. But a trade for hometown hero Billups energized the team, which reached the conference finals for the first time since 1985.
“The disappointment will linger for whatever — sometimes it takes 24 hours, sometimes it takes 24 days,” Karl said. “But I think all of us will have a special feeling about the season.”