Corey Brewer shows what the Nuggets can do when they push the ball.
The Lakers patiently worked the ball to Andrew Bynum, who had established position deep in the post. He took a dribble, rotated his massive shoulders to the baseline and lofted a feathery right-handed jump hook that just rimmed out.
A split second later, Ty Lawson was laying the ball in over a frantic, backpedaling defender.
The six-second exchange during the first quarter of Game 2 encapsulates the dramatic clash in styles these two teams present. The Lakers are going to pound away on the undersized Nuggets inside, and Denver’s only hope is to speed up the game by racing the ball up the court at every opportunity.
Its best opportunity to do that will come against the Lakers’ second unit, which has trouble controlling the pace when either Bynum or Gasol goes to the bench.
Enter Andre Miller, Al Harrington and Corey Brewer.
These three substitutes have been on the court for most of Denver’s best moments and are setting a great example for how they and their teammates can make this series more competitive.
Miller is about as slow as NBA point guards come, but he understands something very important: no one is faster than the ball. Miller's vision is world class, and he has an uncanny ability to delicately float the ball up court, over the defense and into the hands of his playmakers.
Without the relatively plodding Laker big men clogging up the paint, the Nuggets’ streaking wings have found success attacking the rim.
None more so than Brewer, who seems to have a perfect grasp on the Nuggets’ gameplan. On defense, Brewer has been a disruptive force, all flailing limbs and scrambling, quick feet. Even when he gets caught out of position, it seems to be in a way that creates the type of unsettled situations that benefit Denver. And as soon as a shot goes up, Brewer takes off up court, sprinting down the sidelines before the ball even reaches the rim.
Brewer’s aggressive work in the open court earned him five transition layup attempts in Game 2, a few on the type of over-the-shoulder passes that made him look like a wide receiver running a fly pattern past a flat-footed safety. Miller was the quarterback.
The Lakers have won both games, but the Nuggets have outscored Lakers with Brewer and Miller together on the floor. And when the Nuggets add a big man with 3-point shooting ability like Harrington, they’ve done even better. Harrington can jog into an open 3 as a trailer on the fast break, or offer crucial spacing in the Nuggets’ dribble-drive attack.
The Miller-Brewer-Harrington combination has outscored the Lakers by 16 points and is the only three-man Nuggets combination that has a positive plus/minus in extended court time.
So though Los Angeles has dominated the series thus far, the Nuggets have shown they know how to counteract the Lakers' size.
And luckily, Miller, Brewer and Harrington aren’t the only Denver players that have the requisite skill sets. In fact, they share many qualities with the Nuggets who start the game.
After a shaky start to Game 1, Lawson has shown more confidence advancing the ball quickly with the pass or dribble. Arron Afflalo has plenty of athleticism to beat the Lakers up court and finish plays when he gets there. Danilo Gallinari is a career 37 percent 3-point shooter who can slide to the power forward position.
The pieces are in place. As the Nuggets head to the friendly confines of Denver’s Pepsi Center, they must hope their young starters can take a few cues from their effective, veteran substitutes.
Statistical support provided by NBA.com.