The Denver Nuggets will have to find a way to deal with Lakers big man Andrew Bynum if they plan on competing in the Western Conference quarterfinals.
Bynum put on a brilliant defensive performance in Game 1 of the series on Sunday, matching Hakeem Olajuwon and Mark Eaton for the most blocks in an NBA playoff game and posting the first Lakers postseason triple-double in 21 years as Los Angeles thumped the Nuggets, 103-88.
With Game 2 set for Staples Center on Tuesday, the Nuggets will try to up the tempo in order to ease the 7-footer's impact on the game.
Bynum netted 10 points to go along with 13 rebounds and 10 blocks, becoming the first Laker to register a postseason triple-double since Magic Johnson accomplished the feat in Game 5 of the 1991 NBA Finals against the Chicago Bulls.
The record-setting block for Bynum came with 3:02 to play in the game. Timofey Mozgov attempted a left-handed hook in the paint, but Bynum was right there to emphatically swat it away.
"The difference in the game was Andrew Bynum. He was phenomenal tonight, he was an absolute beast," first-year Lakers head coach Mike Brown said.
Kobe Bryant scored 23 of his 31 points in the second half on 11-of-24 shooting, while Devin Ebanks filled in admirably for the suspended Metta World Peace, scoring 12 points to go with five boards.
World Peace, of course, was suspended for seven games after he unleashed a violent elbow to the head of Thunder top reserve James Harden last Sunday. The former Ron Artest will not be eligible to play again for the Lakers until and if the team reaches a seventh postseason game.
"Guys came out and played a 48-minute game, very few breakdowns in our gameplan. Our guys stepped up and played a solid game at both ends of the floor," Brown said.
Danilo Gallinari poured in 19 points in Game 1 to lead the Nuggets, who won six of their last seven games to close the regular season. Denver's leading scorer, Ty Lawson, was limited to just seven points, however.
"They took a good punch at us, we have to learn from it and come back," Denver head coach George Karl said.
Perhaps understanding his team is overmatched, Karl began working the officials on Monday, claiming the Lakers played "about 30 illegal defense possessions" against his team in Game 1, allowing Bynum to park in the paint and pick off shots.
Brown took the gamesmanship in stride.
"He's a veteran coach," the Lakers' mentor said of Karl. "He's been in the playoffs a long time. He's just got to try to work the officials in different ways, and that's what he's doing. I applaud him for that. George is maybe doing the right thing."
The news hasn't been all good for LA, however. Reports surfaced that backup big Jordan Hill, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds in Game 1, has been officially charged with assault over an alleged confrontation with his girlfriend before joining the Lakers.
Despite a a court appearance scheduled for Tuesday in Houston, Hill, who had 10 points and 10 rebounds in Game 1, claimed he doesn't expect to miss any practice time or games.
"He has talked to Mitch (Kupchak, the Lakers' general manager)," Brown said. "But it's not that we're worried about his mental focus. We just told him that we're behind him."
These two teams are meeting in the playoffs for the third time in the past five years (2008, 2009). In fact, the Nuggets and LA have met on five different occasions (1979, 1985, 1987, 2008, 2009) with the Lakers advancing each time, most recently defeating Denver 4-2 in the 2009 Western Conference finals en route to the franchise's last NBA title.
The Lakers also won the 2011-12 season series with the Nuggets 3-1 after dropping last season's series (1-2) as well as the 2009-10 series (1-3).
Game 3 of the best-of-seven series will take place on Friday in Denver.