- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 23, 2009

DENVER | The Denver Nuggets left Los Angeles with homecourt advantage in the Western Conference finals after beating the Lakers in the postseason for the first time since 1985.

They didn’t exactly skip happily home, though.

For one thing, they’re too banged up - Carmelo Anthony’s tender ankle, J.R. Smith’s strained calf and Kenyon Martin’s broken ring finger serve as testaments to the rough-and-tumble nature of this tight matchup.

They’re also too busy kicking themselves.

The Nuggets, who watched film in L.A. before flying home and taking the rest of Friday off, thought they should have taken a 2-0 lead back to Denver. They’re still lamenting their loss in the opener, when Anthony Carter’s lazy lob on the inbounds to Chauncey Billups was stolen by Trevor Ariza in the closing seconds to seal the Lakers’ improbable win. Denver had dominated but failed to seal the win at the foul line or by getting the ball to a red-hot Anthony in crunch time.

“We played hard, but we didn’t play smart,” Martin said. “So I feel if we would’ve [done] that like we did [Thursday] night, it would’ve been a different outcome in Game 1. But who’s to say? It didn’t happen that way, so we’ll take the split, go home and try to get both of those.”

Game 3 is Saturday night at Pepsi Center, where the Nuggets haven’t lost in 11 weeks. The Lakers feel they, too, should be heading to Denver halfway to winning the best-of-seven series.

“A bounce of the ball here, and we’re up 2-0,” Kobe Bryant said. “A bounce of the ball here, and they win Game 1.”

That’s how close this series is: Both games, each team has done enough things right to have a shot at the end - and enough things wrong to have plenty of regrets.

So the Nuggets think they squandered away a game in L.A.?

“We probably returned the favor,” Bryant said.

Now he and the rest of the Lakers will try to snare back homecourt advantage.

“They’re a good team and they can come in our building and get both games if we don’t show up and play,” Martin said. “We’ve got to be on our ‘A’ game.”

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