Tonight’s Close-Out Game Will Test Lakers Toughness

For the first time under new coach Mike Brown, the Lakers are facing a game that could finish out their opening round series against the Denver Nuggets and earn their right to challenge the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference semi-finals.

Brown didn’t think a speech is needed after Monday’s practice since he believes everyone is aware tonight’s game is a close-out game.

Of course, Brown might be setting himself up for some lashing from Laker fans if the Lakers fail to eliminate the Nuggets at Staples Center. But coaching a team that has more experience in these situations and is more familiar with landscape of the road to the NBA Finals than his resumé is trickier than most might think.

Being a head coach is to lead. However, that doesn’t always mean giving a motivational speech is the proper way to prepare any team mentally. A lot of times, letting the players absorb the importance of a close out game does a better job of reaching each individual player deeper than a pep talk…especially this Laker team.

This team may not be new to the idea of playoff fortitude but tonight’s matchup will challenge them in every way we’ve all seen opponents have come out against them in these games. The difference is how well the players and Brown adjust to the list of Xs and Os Nuggets coach George Karl will throw at them.

And he will.

Andrew Bynum may think close-out games are easy if the Lakers come out aggressive from the start. But the question is: will the Lakers be more energetic than the Nuggets?

Denver owned the league’s highest-scoring offense in the regular season because of how quickly they can switch from defense to offense on defensive rebounds and opponent turnovers. Credit Ty Lawson‘s ability to push the ball and get into the teeth of the defense to score and set-up the table for his teammates for much of that.

For the most part, the Lakers have done a good job of containing Lawson. Game 3 just caught the Lakers unprepared and the Nuggets hungrier around the boards.

If the Lakers continue to control the pace of the game and limit the fast break points from the Nuggets, they’ll win.

No matter what Karl has jotted down on his notepad of what he’d like his team to do tonight, this game will boil down to which team dominates the paint on either side of the court.

That and which team shows a little bit more toughness.