No better way to get the bad taste of a double-digit road loss out of one's mouth than with a double-digit road win.
With the burden of checking Carmelo Anthony, Artest would theoretically have no energy available to contribute any points of his own. But like most things with Ron-Ron, conventional wisdom doesn't always apply. As the Lakers struggled offensively as a unit during the first quarter (39.1 percent from the field), Artest found his groove. Four makes on five tries for nine points, with buckets coming from close range and downtown. (It was a sign of good things to come for the small forward. The evening was rounded out with 19 points on a super-efficient eight-of-12 clip.)
In the meantime, his offensive explosion didn't equal bucket trading with Melo. The Nuggets' superstar was outscored 9-8, while requiring seven shots to get those points. Artest sat for the entire second quarter, which I'm guessing was the result of picking up two fouls and Phil Jackson figuring as long as Melo didn't explode with Luke Walton on him, might as well try to allow Ron to play the second half with four fouls to give.
The strategy made sense, and Artest was able to defend Melo aggressively. Back-to-back possessions isolated against Anthony led to a strip (Kobe Bryant scored an uncontested dunk on the turnover) and a wild miss. Anthony, who rarely found space to breathe, finished the night on 23 points on 24 shots and picked up a late-game technical as the frustration mounted.
There were a few turnovers in the first half, one so badly telegraphed and unnecessary Brian was pretty sure he read Phil's lips at a timeout to read, "Don't force the (NSFW) ball!" But Odom's production and activity remained at their All-Star level. An 18/10 double-double off the bench, some quality defensive stands, and I especially enjoyed how Odom continually set himself up for easy makes by moving without the ball. On one occasion, he slipped Melvin Ely so badly to go backdoor, I'm not even sure the Denver big even realized what happened when his team started taking the ball upcourt in the other direction.
The Nuggets used to go out of their way to try and intimidate Pau, cranking up the smack to the point where Gasol actually said, "they talk too much. too much. Way too much." I imagine Kenyon Martin and Nene still try to shove El Spaniard around whenever possible, but tonight demonstrated a little bit more legitimate strategy will be needed. Not to mention at times, a little more muscle.
Gasol's 19 points and 13 boards were nice in and of itself but he was a demon on the offensive glass. He grabbed six in all, none bigger than a retrieval of a missed triple from Shannon Brown. The putback just beat the third quarter horn and created momentum and a 10-point advantage maintained over the final frame. Plus, he did a nice job on several occasions contesting shots around the rim.
Kobe's third quarter
It was a fairly quiet first half showing for the Mamba. Four points, two assists, and almost a "backstage" presence. But after intermission, the spotlight was grabbed like so many times before. Bryant showcased himself at his deadliest during the third quarter, creating for himself and others to the tune of 14 points and four assists. On consecutive possessions, he faked the shot to find Odom at the rim for an easy make, then followed that assist with a drive to and along the baseline, finished off by a turnaround J over Martin. The pair of sequences summed up the frame for Bryant.
But lest anybody think his highlights were pure flash and no grit, Bryant also contributed by getting his hands dirty. In an effort to create a second chance possession off his own short three pointer, Bryant dove to the ground, then pushed the ball behind him to Derek Fisher for a fresh 24-second clock. He made the most of that new possession, setting up LO again at the rim for two points.
Put it this way: LO and Pau (23) almost out-rebounded the Nuggets (27) by themselves.
Defense of Aaron Afflalo in the first half
Afflalo is a likable kid who grew up in Compton rooting for the Lakers and is still considered a favorite son of sorts. Still, that doesn't mean he should be given special treatment, which is how his torrid pace from behind the arc felt. Afflalo notched a dozen points on a quartet of treys, often of the uncontested variety. Generally speaking, it's considered bad basketball strategy to give a 43.5 percent shooter from distance wide open looks.
Shannon Brown's shooting
Shannon recently confirmed to People he secretly married pop star Monica in a quiet private November ceremony. Word on the street says a more plush celebration will eventually follow. We're happy for the couple, but perhaps Shannon's mind these days has been occupied by meetings with wedding coordinators and caterers, which would explain the drastic disappearance of his shot. Shannon was just two-for-eight on the night, and one basket was an uncontested breakaway dunk. All three tries from downtown were missed, further lowering his sub-30 percent mark in January.