Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant smiles as he hands the ball back to a referee in Minneapolis

NBA Playoff Preview: L.A. Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets

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SEASON RECORDS


Lakers: 41-25 (3 seed)
Nuggets: 38-28 (6 seed)

SEASON SERIES


The Lakers took three of the four regular season meetings from the Nuggets, with the only loss coming on New Year’s Day in Denver. All the games were close, however, with L.A.’s margin of victory never being greater than six points.

KEY INJURIES

Lakers: There are no players who will be unavailable due to injury to start this series for the Lakers. The Artest now known as Metta World Peace is serving a seven-game suspension for the elbow he landed on the head of James Harden, so we won’t be seeing him face the Nuggets unless there is a Game 7.

Nuggets: None.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS (points per 100 possession)

Lakers: offense 103.3 (10th); defense 101.7 (13th)
Nuggets: offense 106.6 (3rd); defense 103.4 (19th)

THREE KEY LAKERS:

Kobe Bryant: Bryant has played this season, for the most part, at an extremely high level. The shin injury he suffered at the beginning of April that forced him to miss seven games may have been a blessing in disguise, as the famously competitive Bryant wouldn’t likely have chosen to get any rest before the playoffs otherwise. As anyone who has watched this Lakers team closely can attest, the preferred and more successful strategy is for Bryant to pace himself offensively, while making sure his teammates get plenty of touches in the game’s early going — instead of making sure to take as many shots as humanly possible, no matter the defense.

Andrew Bynum: It’s been an interesting season for Anrew Bynum, to say the very least. What the Lakers hope to see in the postseason is the dominant, big man that Bynum showed he can be at multiple times this year, instead of the petulant man-child who engages in nonsense on the court that’s detrimental to the team’s efforts. The pressure of the postseason and the veterans on this team should be enough to keep him in check, but should he become disinterested or show a lack of maturity by needlessly picking up technical or flagrant fouls, it could severely impact his team’s chances.

Ramon Sessions: This will be Sessions’ first trip to the postseason in his career, and his performance, especially against this Denver team, will be critical to the Lakers’ success. Sessions will need to stay in front of Ty Lawson defensively, and will need to control the tempo on the offensive end, while resisting the urge to match the speed of Denver’s game.

THREE KEY NUGGETS

Aaron Afflalo: The Nuggets’ two-guard has really stepped his game up late in the season, and he’s going to be trouble for the Lakers. He regularly plays 40 minutes per game, and his scoring average and field goal percentage numbers were way up over his yearly averages in the last month of the season. He’s efficient and able to score in a variety of ways, so the Lakers will try to force him into taking low-percentage, highly-contested shots. Good luck with that.

Ty Lawson: Tempo is going to be the key to this series, and Lawson’s speed will be extremely tough to contain. He makes everything possible offensively for Denver, and offense is where games in this series will be won for the Nuggets.

Kenneth Faried: The rookie nicknamed “Manimal” is as athletic and energetic as they come, but he manages to play under control at the same time. The Lakers will need to be aware of him on both ends of the floor, and make a conscious effort to put a body on him to prevent those hustle plays that give his team extra possessions.

OUTLOOK

The Lakers have the best frontcourt in the game with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, and one of its best players in Kobe Bryant. From a talent standpoint, Denver is overmatched. But the Nuggets have been playing excellent team basketball to end the season, finishing the season winning six of seven, and eight of their last 10 games.

Tempo will be the key to this series. If Denver is able to get out in transition and make these high-possession games, the team will have a chance to get some wins in this series. Overall, though, expect the Lakers to play a smart, focused brand of basketball that utilizes their strengths in the first round of these playoffs.

Denver should mostly keep things close, and may get a couple of wins as the Lakers try to find their postseason selves. L.A.’s size down low, along with the presence of a healthy Kobe Bryant, will ultimately be too much.

PREDICTION

Lakers win 4-2.

Watch Klay Thompson’s record 11 playoff three pointers

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Klay Thompson was ridiculous. His shooting was some of the most incredible shooting you will ever see.”

That was how Warrior coach Steve Kerr described Thompson’s night — a playoff record 11 three pointers on his way to 41 points, sparking Golden State’s Game 6 win on the road. It wasn’t just the threes, it was the degree of difficulty on some of those shots — he was just in the zone. Not the Blake Griffin commercial zone, the real one.

 

Klay Thompson shoots Warriors to comeback win in Oklahoma City, forces Game 7

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Klay Thompson #11 of the Golden State Warriors handles the ball during the second half against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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What. A. Game.

In the most intense game of these playoffs, Golden State came from eight down to start the fourth quarter behind the red-hot shooting of Klay Thompson — he set an NBA record with 11 threes in a playoff game and had 19 points in the fourth quarter — as the Warriors outscored the Thunder 16-4 in the final 4:40 of the game. Thompson had help with the defense of Andre Iguodala making plays on both Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, getting key steals and making plays down the stretch.

The result was a 108-101 Golden State win in Oklahoma City to even the series at 3-3 and force a Game 7 Monday night at Oracle Arena.

Which is just good for fans of basketball because this series has been thrilling.

It didn’t feel thrilling to OKC, this was a punch to the gut for the Thunder, who had a 13 point lead in the first half at seemed in complete control early of a game that could have sent them to the NBA Finals. However, as the game got tight late the Thunder reverted to bad habits — everyone standing around watching Durant and Westbrook go one-on-one. The result was the two Thunder stars combined for 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting with six turnovers in the fourth quarter alone, four turnovers in the final two minutes. For the game, the Thunder shot 13 percent from three.

Meanwhile, the Warriors’ Thompson wasn’t just making threes, he was making high degree of difficulty threes on his way to 41 points on the night.

“Klay Thompson was ridiculous,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “His shooting was some of the most incredible shooting you will ever see. I think he set a record for threes (he did), but our defense was fantastic. We kept getting stops, but we couldn’t get the board, but we stayed with it.”

Stephen Curry, who had struggled again in the first half and still doesn’t look 100 percent except in flashes, had one of those flashes in the fourth quarter — six points which included a dagger driving layup and the steal that sealed the win. He finished with 31 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists on the night.

Curry and Thompson combined for 61 of the Warriors last 81 points in the game.

That finish was the opposite of how everything started for Golden State.

The Warriors opened the game 8-of-28 from the field and shot just 36 percent overall, plus had 10 turnovers in the first half. It was the Thunder defense that seemed to be back to form and under that pressure the Warriors reverted to some sloppy play — for example, Curry trying to make a playground pass to a shooter in the corner when a floater or layup was available (Kevin Durant stole that pass). Curry once again seemed hesitant early on in this game. Also, Steve Kerr oddly sat Thompson, Curry and Draymond Green all at the same time in the first half and that fueled a quick OKC run — and their building was rocking.

But they couldn’t sustain it.

“That hasn’t been us the last month and a half,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said of his team’s performance in the fourth. “I thought we got a little stagnant coming down the stretch, and then I thought us defensively, we were a little bit late.”

For much of the game the Thunder played well — Steven Adams was a beast again, Serge Ibaka made plays — but they couldn’t put the Warriors away in the first half. Part of that was Durant, who started just 2-of-10 from the field and was shooting to quickly too often. He was 10-of-31 shooting for the game.

It was Westbrook who had the Thunder up by as many as 13 in the first half. Then Warriors got a few stops, and the three ball (Curry and Thompson were 6-of-12 from deep in the first half) kept it close, it was just a five-point game at the break, 53-48.

Thompson drained a couple of threes to open the second half and with that the game was close through the third, however, Curry started to find his groove and scored 11 straight for the Warriors at one point. The Thunder made a push at the end of the quarter — with Anthony Morrow and Enes Kanter on the court — and led by eight heading into the fourth.

It wasn’t enough. There was the long Curry three over Adams to make it a one-point game with four minutes left. Westbrook hit a couple of free throws but on the next Thunder possession Durant called for a clear out that the Warriors doubled, got the steal, then got the Curry three in transition to tie it with 2:47 left.

In the end, it was too much of the shooting magic that got the Warriors 73 wins. And they got the Game 7 they needed.

“I don’t think there can be any more pressure on us in Game 7 than there was tonight,” Kerr said.

 

Steven Adams gets his revenge, dunks all over Draymond Green (VIDEO)

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That’s a piece of revenge.

Draymond Green twice kicked Steven Adams in the nether regions this series, but with the chance to close out the Warriors in Game 6 Adams got some revenge — he put Green in a poster and dunked all over him.

This came as part of a second quarter run when the Thunder stretched the lead out to double digits.

Jordan Clarkson says he wants to return to Lakers, play for Luke Walton

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 13: Jordan Clarkson of the Los Angeles Lakers is introduced for the Taco Bell Skills Challenge during NBA All-Star Weekend 2016 at Air Canada Centre on February 13, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson is a restricted free agent, and he is the kind of quality rotation player that teams with cash to burn may well try to poach. The Lakers have the right to match and likely will unless the offer is way over the top. But make no mistake, Clarkson will go with the team that offers him the most money.

That’s July, right now Clarkson is saying the right things about wanting to stay with the Lakers and play for new coach Luke Walton.

Clarkson was interviewed by Chris McGee of Time Warner Cable, as reported by lakersnation.com.

I want to stay in LA….I don’t really look at it as me being a free agent; I want to be here…

He (Luke) called me a few days after he got hired. We talked about the offensive system, what he sees in us young guys, where he sees the organization, the style we’re gonna play. I’m excited for him to come and work with us.

Most likely he gets a chance, the Lakers want to keep him. They see him as part of the future (or at least as an asset they can trade to get parts for their future). He’s saying all the right things to make Laker nation happy.

But it’s going to be about the money. It always is.