- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here are your 10 additional things to take away from the Lakers' 93-89 road win against the Denver Nuggets on Friday ...
Every game on this Lakers trip figured to be important, what with the purple and gold embarking on this six-game challenge with a measly 2-7 road record and an overall record that would place them in the bottom half of teams to make the postseason if the playoffs started today.
And so the fourth quarter of the tip-off game for the trip became a battle of will, as the Lakers ignored their 3-7 record in the last 10 games at Pepsi Center and were the last team standing against one of the squads that rests above them in the standings.
"It’s good to get a win. We just kind of found a way to grind it out, stick with it; we relied on our defense, and defense got us a win in a tough environment," said Lakers coach Mike Brown. "I give my guys credit for finding a way to win."
The Lakers saw their eight-point lead with 7:10 remaining dwindle to just one less than three minutes later, but they never fell behind.
As ugly as it looked, L.A. outrebounded 14-7 in the final frame, including hauling in three offensive rebounds to the Nuggets' zero. Coming into the trip, Kobe Bryant called the offensive glass the Lakers' Achilles' heel.
"You got to go get the ball. You got to go get the ball," Bryant said. "We’re not shooting the ball particularly well from 3, so as a result, we got to go crash the glass. We’re a pretty good offensive rebounding team when we put our minds to it."
The road continues with tough games in Utah, Philadelphia and Boston and ends in New York and Toronto. The Lakers' Grammy trip has been a litmus test in years past. When they went a combined 6-14 from 2004 to 2007, nobody deemed them a championship contender. When they went 18-5 from 2007 to 2010, they made it to three straight NBA Finals.
The season hardly started out the way the Lakers had planned, but if the Denver win sparks a successful road trip, the season really takes on another tone.
"I keep telling everybody we’re going to be fine," Bryant said. "This is the start of the year and it’s tough to kind of get out on the road. We had some very tough opponents to start the season with on the road. It’s kind of getting used to everything with no practices. We’re going to be A-OK."
After a win like Friday, it's easier to believe him.
The win wouldn't have been quite so gritty if the referees had called a foul on Nene with 12.0 seconds left and the Lakers up 91-89 when Andrew Bynum's dunk attempt was broken up by a shot across his forearm. The officials not only awarded Nene with a clean block, but after initially declaring it to be Lakers possession after the ball squirted out of bounds, overturned the call and gave the ball to the Nuggets once reviewing the play on a video monitor.
"Obviously, it was a missed call. That missed call was tough to swallow," Brown said. "Drew has a clean dunk and he gets fouled and it ends up being Denver’s ball in a two-point game. That’s tough to swallow when you’re playing in somebody’s building and the fans are in it. ... It’s tough to sit there and watch a no-call at that point in the game."
Bryant was asked about the conversation he was seen to be having with the officials after the controversial no-call.
"[They said] they missed it," Bryant said. "It happens, I guess."
Bynum could only shake his head and laugh as he approached the sideline while the officials examined the replay, but did not have much to say about it after the game was over.
"I can just let it go," Bynum said. "It really wasn’t that bad. I’m still supposed to make [the dunk]."
The Lakers are 3-0 since Metta World Peace was put back in the starting lineup at small forward and even though his stats haven't jumped off the page (he had 7 points, 7 rebounds and a block against Denver), his defense and physicality have really made an impact on the Lakers' success.
"I’m very excited where I’m heading defensively," World Peace said. "I’m excited that I have a chance to move how I’ve been moving over the years. I’m excited, man. I haven’t felt like this in a long time and I know I’m going to get better, that’s the crazy thing. I know defensively that I’m going to get better because I’m working at it and I’m just feeling really good. Especially against young players that have never saw me play defense before, I get a chance to kind of lock in and just kind of show people, show players, this is who I used to be."
World Peace guarded Denver's Al Harrington when the Nuggets forward missed a step-back 3 with 3.7 seconds remaining that would have put his team up by one.
"He made Al take a tough step-back 3 that Al is more than capable of hitting," Brown said. "He just contested it and [Harrington] happened to miss it."
In Bynum's first game since being named the starting center for the Western Conference in the All-Star Game, the big man finished with a solid double-double -- 22 points on 10-for-13 shooting, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks.
Despite Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's telling ESPN 710's "Mason & Ireland" show on Friday that Bynum wanted to shoot jump shots more than he wanted to work on post moves when he used to coach him, the Lakers' 24-year-old center was praised by Nuggets coach George Karl before the game.
"I think he is probably the best post player right now," Karl said. "He gets great catches and he is extremely powerful and difficult to cover with one player."
Steve Blake (costochondral fracture) is on the road trip with the team, but don’t expect him to suit up anytime soon. “Nobody has told me he’s going to play on this trip, so I don’t even think about it,” said Brown. “The only thing I think about when I see him is, ‘Hey, Steve. How are you doing? How’s the family doing? OK, I’ll see you later.’”
(Can’t you just picture Blake and Brown having that Harry Dunne and Lloyd Christmas in “Dumb and Dumber” type of conversation? “Big Gulps, huh? Welp, see you later!”)
Blake hasn’t played since Jan. 11 against Utah, when he aggravated the rib injury he hurt the game before against Phoenix. He was a bright spot amongst a dreary Lakers second unit, averaging 7.3 points and 2.8 assists in 24.3 minutes per game until he was put out of commission the past 10 games.
“He’s getting closer,” Brown said of Blake, who was cleared to run on the treadmill earlier in the week and participated in on-court shooting drills prior to the Denver game. “Every day he’s getting closer. But he’s still a way’s away. “
They were calling it "snowpocalypse" in Denver, as parts of the Mile High City were hit with up to 48 inches of snow, but the sunny California residents in town for the game didn't seem to mind.
"These guys have been around a long time," said Brown, who lived in Denver in the early '90s when he got his start in the NBA as a video coordinator for the Nuggets. "They’ve been in cities where the weather has laid an egg. You just take it however it goes."
With snow still falling come tip-off and the Lakers facing the prospect of flying to Utah after the game through the inclement weather, the coach acted as if he already knew he had Rudolph guiding the plane later that night.
"I heard we can get out," Brown said, unfazed. "I don’t know. I just do what they tell me."
The Lakers' Grammy road trip is usually the longest of the season, with this lockout year being no exception, as the jaunt will span six games over 11 days. It was always looked at by the coaching staff as a team-building opportunity, too, as former head coach Phil Jackson would use the occasion to hand out carefully selected books to every player.
When Brown was coaching Cleveland, he would sometimes plan bowling outings on long road trips and once took the team to a special screening of the Will Smith film "Seven Pounds" at the Screen Actors Guild in Los Angeles.
He doesn't have anything specific planned for this road trip, but always has a team brunch back at the hotel following shootaround on game days to build camaraderie. The two back-to-backs in Denver and Utah and Boston and New York on the trip will make it challenging to hold any other activities, but there is a two-day stretch between the Philadelphia game and the Boston game when the Lakers don't play, so that could provide a chance for something extracurricular. Plus, the Super Bowl is Sunday, and that could be another opportunity for players to spend time together watching it.
"We don’t have anything, per se, planned right now, but if we feel like it to break up the monotony of the trip, we will," Brown said.
For all those fans clamoring for a flashy veteran guard known as much for his outsized personality as he is for his offensive skills to come to L.A., your prayers were answered Friday. The Los Angeles D-Fenders acquired Rafer Alston.
OK, so "Skip to my Lou" isn't quite "Agent Zero" and he's playing for the Lakers' D-League affiliate instead of the actual Lakers, but the D-Fenders have already had two guards called up (Jamaal Tinsley to the Jazz, Ish Smith to the Magic) so maybe Alston will make it three by swapping places with rookie Darius Morris for some burn with the Lakers. Alston played for seven teams in his 11-year NBA career, averaging 10.1 points and 4.8 assists. He last played in the league in 2009-10 for New Jersey before going to China to play for Zhejiang Guangsha during the 2010-11 season, where he averaged 19.6 points and 3.8 assists in eight games.
Quote of the night: "It looked like we were playing the Lakers’ defense in the playoffs and he was getting wide-open shots." -- The Mavericks' Jason Terry, after Indiana's Paul George torched Dallas for 30 points, including a 7-for-11 mark on 3-pointers.
Stats of the night: The Nuggets came into the game averaging a league-best 105.7 points per game and the Lakers held them to just 89 points on 44.0 percent shooting overall and 21.7 percent from 3. ... After scoring zero points in five straight appearances, Andrew Goudelock has now scored double digits in four of his past five games, pouring in 13 points on 6-for-10 shooting against Denver. ... The Lakers went just 15-for-25 from the free throw line (60 percent).
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.