Lakers Back Where They Belong

Game 6 of the NBA’s Western Conference Finals

By Jesse Green-Drudik, staff writer

DENVER (RPRN) 5/30/2009 – The Los Angeles Lakers returned to the NBA Finals last night with a dominating 119-92 win over the Denver Nuggets in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals and will now await the winner of the Eastern Conference Finals.

From the opening tip off, to the final buzzer, the Lakers showed why they are the best in the west. Kobe Bryant, who is considered among the best the play the game, was on a mission to make sure his team didn’t have the same performance they did against the Houston Rockets in Game 6 of the Western Conference Semi-Finals. They definitely got the message as four other Lakers hit double-digits in points. Bryant had a game high 35 points and 10 assists leading them to victory.

In the first quarter, the Lakers took advantage of some poor defending by the Nuggets. Trevor Ariza, who just seems to improve every time he is on the court, shot the lights out in the early stages of the game. He was 4 for 5 including a key 3 pointer which set the tone for the game. Luke Walton had to substitute Ariza in the latter stages of the first quarter due to two early fouls committed by Ariza. The Lakers took a five point lead into the second quarter.

Denver showed signs of life early on in the second when J.R. Smith, who was unbelievable in the series, gave the boost his team needed, draining a couple of shots and assisting on a few plays. The Nuggets took the lead 31-30 mid-way through the quarter, when Phil Jackson, the Lakers hall-of-fame head coach, took a crucial time out to settle his team. The teams traded shots until Denver began to go cold from outside the paint. The Lakers found their inside game when Andrew Bynum, all-star Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom each took their turns dominating the paint area. The Lakers had a 53-40 lead at half time.

At the start of the third quarter, the Nuggets cut the lead down to single digits before Los Angeles took a commanding lead, one which they did not relinquish. Gasol and Bryant were making beautiful music together orchestrating a lead which grew to 16 by the end of the quarter. Shannon Brown, a late season acquisition for the Lakers, provided a nice spark off the bench for the second consecutive game. The Lakers were at times brilliant with ball distribution and shot selection.

With a 16 point lead to start the fourth quarter, the Lakers began to show signs of slowing down. The Nuggets pulled within 12 points, but Bryant, last year’s most valuable player, took the game over. He began by driving hard to the basket, drawing a foul which resulted in two free throws, which he calmly drained. The next time down the floor he hit nothing but net on a 3 point attempt over top of the Nuggets Smith. Denver tried desperately to come back, and every time they seemed to have a small window, Kobe and the Lakers closed it right back up again.

The Nuggets, who had their best season ever at 54 wins, made it to the Conference Finals for the first time since 1985. As for the Lakers, the journey back to the NBA Finals wasn’t as easy as everyone thought it would be. This is the second consecutive year they win the West and move on to the Finals. Last year they lost to the rival Boston Celtics in six games. This year they were determined to get back and take care of some unfinished business. The Lakers, who owned the leagues second best record overall at 65-17, are making their record breaking 30th appearance in the Finals. This is truly a remarkable stat considering they have only been in the league for 49 years.

The Lakers will now wait the outcome tomorrow night’s Eastern Conference Semi-Final between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Orlando Magic. The Magic lead the series 3-2. If the Cavaliers win, the Lakers will begin the Finals on June 4th on the road. If the Magic win, Los Angeles will have home court advantage.

photo credit:Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images