NBA Playoffs 2012: Tired Legs Will Doom Lakers Down the Stretch

The Los Angeles Lakers are hardly in any position to panic. Anyone who's surprised that Los Angeles struggled on the road in Game 3 against the Denver Nuggets must have forgotten this Lakers team was 15-18 on the road this season.

Make it 15-19.

We also shouldn't be surprised that these young Nuggets play better at home, where they were 20-13 during the regular season.

At the end of the day, the Lakers are still the favorites to prevail in this series. The Nuggets would need another strong performance at home and at least one upset at the Staples Center, and that's probably not happening.

But this series could still cost the Lakers dearly over the long run. If Denver can push it to six or seven games, the up-tempo wear and tear could add up for Los Angeles.

Even in losses, Denver is making the Lakers run (as evidenced by the Nuggets' 30 fast-break points in a Game 2 loss). The Lakers may be well-conditioned to handle the Denver altitude, but they'll still be pushed by the Nuggets' preferred break-neck pace.

The 33-year-old Kobe Bryant may be among the Lakers best-equipped to handle that pace. He's averaged over 39 minutes a game in this series after playing 38.5 a game in the regular season. Still, even Bryant is human, and he certainly wasn't at his best in the fourth quarter of Game 3.

Whether that had to do with fatigue, Danilo Gallinari's length or Kobe just having an off night, there's no question that it will only get harder to play the 40 or more minutes Bryant, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol have become accustomed to.

Assuming the Lakers make it past George Karl's energetic squad, they'll face another young and lightning-quick lineup against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

With the Thunder already starting to get some rest after a quick sweep of the Dallas Mavericks, the Lakers can ill afford to let this first round drag on. Each game is another taxing test ...

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