Thursday, May 28, 2009

Lakers Pull Ahead. Now Up 3-2

Last night's Game 5 match-up in the Western Conference Finals was a critical game for both teams. If the Nuggets stole one in L.A., then they could wrap the series up on their home court in Game 6. The Lakers needed to avenge their 19 point loss in Game 4 and retake the momentum of the series. Los Angeles overcame the Nuggets with a big 4th quarter to win 103-94. 

The Lakers performance in the final frame was the difference, because heading into the 4th quarter, the Nuggets and Lakers were tied 76-76. The teams were so evenly matched, that they each put up the same number of points in the first and second quarters as well. This game shouldn't be too surprising as this entire series has been crazy. In five games Denver has trailed only twice entering the 4th quarter. Each of those times the Nuggets were just down a single point. Despite having a good opportunity to win entering the 4th quarter of each game, the Nuggets remain down 3-2 in the series. Overall Denver has outscored the Lakers 520-515, but in the 4th quarter the Lakers are up 147-132. The Lakers have scored almost 29% of their points in that deciding quarter. With the exception of Game 4, Denver has not been able to put the Lakers away when they have them on the ropes. In Games 1 and 3 the Nuggets were in a prime position to win the game in the 4th, but couldn't put the nail in the coffin. If Denver is going to come back and win this series they will need to elevate their play in the 4th quarter to match the Lakers. This one should be decided in seven games but the way this series is going I wouldn't be surprised to see the Lakers win out in Denver.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Big Night in the NBA and NHL Playoffs

Last night we saw two defining games in the NBA and NHL Playoffs. The first was expected, as the Pittsburgh Penguins swept the Carolina Hurricanes to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. The second was a big surprise, as the top ranked Cleveland Cavaliers lost in overtime to the Orlando Magic. These two games have defined the Eastern Conferences in each of these sports. 

The Pens cruised past the surging Hurricanes in the Conference Finals and look poised to give the Detroit Red Wings a tough rematch in the Stanley Cup Finals. Going in to the series with the Hurricanes it looked as though it would be a battle. The Pens were just coming off a 7 game slug fest with the Washington Capitals and the Canes had just knocked off the top seeded Boston Bruins. Pittsburgh ran away with the series behind their two stars Crosby and Malkin on the offensive side and Fluery between the pipes. Though the series lacked the excitement and hype of their previous round against the Capitals, the Pens needed this series to prove that they were an elite team. 

As for the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, last night the Orlando Magic proved that they are for real and moved into firm control of this series. The Magic outlasted a late 4th quarter surge to tie the game and a potential game winning shot by LeBron James, to go up 3-1 in the series. While the Cavs have been in three of the four games, the Magic have really set the tone. Dwight Howard has really dominated this series and posted a double double last night. Howard took control in overtime and put the Cavs on the ropes. Even with James, the Cavs really don't seem to have much of a chance to comeback in this series. Right now the Cleveland doesn't have an answer for Howard and hasn't had a consistent second option to go along with James. Balance has been the key for Orlando. They've had two players score 20 or more points and five players in double figures in every game. On defense Orlando has looked to only contain James and not try to shut him down, which has allowed them to shut down the rest of the Cavs. I think Cleveland may win the next game to force a game 6 but I don't think it will go any further than that.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Nuggets Even the Series

The Denver Nuggets were looking at a bleak future heading into last night's Game 4 match-up with the L.A. Lakers. Their star player, Carmelo Anthony, was visibly sick and banged up. They were committing stupid penalties and turnovers that had kept the Lakers in the series. Finally, Denver blew an eight point lead going into the 4th quarter of Game 3, to lose 103-97. It looked as though the Nuggets were finished and the Lakers would be heading back to Los Angeles up 3-1. Denver responded to their naysayers by dominating the Lakers and winning 120-101.

The Nuggets were in control of that game from start to finish, but put up an impressive 43 points (or two less than the Lakers had the entire first half) in the fourth quarter to ensure they didn't collapse like they did in Game 3. The win was even more impressive due to the fact that Anthony had his worst game of the series. The Denver star contributed just 15 points on 3-16 shooting (though he went 9-11 from the line) and added only three rebounds, as he battled a twisted ankle and a stomach virus. Anthony's struggles didn't affect the outcome of the game, as six other Nuggets scored in double figures. Denver was led by guards Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith, who each had 24 points. Smith had been Denver's most effective scorer off the bench during the regular season and the first two rounds. In the first three games the Lakers had kept him in check, holding him to a combined 21 points.  Last night the Lakers couldn't stop Smith, as he scored 12 points in the 4th quarter. Smith hit three big 3-pointers in the last 5 minutes to put the game out of reach for the Lakers. In addition to out shooting the Lakers the Nuggets controlled the tempo of the game with their success on the boards. Denver out-rebounded L.A. 58-40 overall and 20-9 on the offensive glass. Their second chance points were a deciding factor in last night's game. 

Denver now head's back to L.A. with the series tied 2-2. Not many people give them much of a chance to upset the Lakers, but i think it's a very real possibility. Denver has been in every game down to the last minute. In fact, they've led most of the way in every game. The Lakers can't make either claim, as they were blown out in the 4th quarter and have usually entered the last frame playing catch-up. The Nuggets are also getting a better performance out of their bench and their other starters. The Lakers are still too reliant on Kobe Bryant and haven't featured Gasol, Bynum and Odom nearly enough. Last night Odom only managed five points in almost 30 minutes. Until the Lakers can show they are more than a one trick pony I don't see how they overcome the Nuggets.