Facing their toughest opponent of the young season, the Los Angeles Lakers traveled to the “Mile High City” Thursday night to do battle with the reigning Northwest Division champion Denver Nuggets in search of their ninth consecutive victory. After just barely edging out the dismal Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night, the Lakers couldn’t stay in rhythm for a full 48 minutes, as they were handed their first loss of the season.
A three-pointer from Denver’s Carmelo Anthony opened the game, and the Lakers responded by missing their first five field goals before Ron Artest broke the offensiv drought with a layup. However, the rest of the quarter would be a see-saw battle between the two teams, as no team led by more than six points.
Kobe Bryant didn’t hit his first field goal until there was 3:04 left in the period but Artest would carry the Lakers offensively scoring nine points on 100% shooting from the floor. His free-throw with 4:03 remaining broke a 13-13 tie and the Lakers took the lead for the rest of the period, as the headed into the second period with a two point lead, 26-24.
A quintessential Shannon “Cannon” Brown fastbreak dunk ignited the Lakers’ offense in the second quarter which kept the Lakers in the lead. The Nuggets answered back, as Nene successfully converted back-to-back three-point plays, Ty Lawson knocked down two free-throws and Anthony scored on a layup, giving the Nuggets a 46-44 advantage with 5:58 remaining.
The Lakers bounced back from their momentary offensive struggle, and regained the lead behind a 7-0 run powered by five consecutive points from Bryant. They wouldn’t hold the upper edge for long, and the game continued to be a back-and-forth battle.
With just over two minutes remaining a Chauncey Billups three-pointer put the Nuggets ahead once again; however, on the next possession down, Artest would respond with a trey of his own, knotting the score at 55.
The Lakers closed out the first half with a 12-4 run and they entered halftime with a 64-59 lead. Ron Artest led the way offensively for the Lakers with 14 points on a near-perfect 5-6 shooting. Pau Gasol chipped in 11 points and 8 rebounds, while Kobe posted 13 points of his own.
12 second quarter points from Nene in addition to 15 points and 7 rebounds from Anthony highlighted the Nuggets struggling offense. Neither team offered much offensive efficiency as both the Lakers and Nuggets shot under 45% from the field and missed a combined 15 three-pointers.
After a triple by Bryant to begin the second half, Kobe scored again, this time on 13-foot shot, that not only gave him his 17th point of the game, but his 26,000th career point – making him the youngest player in NBA history to reach that milestone.
A 13-4 run early in the third quarter gave the Lakers a 14 point lead, but the Nuggets dug themselves out of their hole, and cut the deficit to five points before being hit with a classic stomach-punch by Kobe, who nailed back-to-back three pointers, putting the Lakers back on top by 11.
Once again, the Nuggets would refuse to be held down and reduced the lead to four. However, the Lakers refused to let up, and despite a double double from Carmelo Anthony, who posted 24 points and 11 rebounds, the Lakers maintained a 93-85 lead heading into the fourth and final period.
Again, the Nuggets would fight back into the game to begin the fourth quarter, but this time they came within striking distance, as a 15-0 run gave the Nuggets their first lead since there was 2:30 left in the second quarter.
Nevertheless, triples from Bryant and Brown to go along with an emphatic, one-handed put-back slam by Brown, put the Lakers back up, 103-101 with just over six minutes left to play.
Unfortunately for the Lakers, the Nuggets showed why they are one of the most potent offensive teams in the league, as a barrage of buckets inspired an 11-0 run, and gave them their biggest lead of the night, 114-105.
Offensively, the Lakers were led by Bryant, who scored 34 points and Artest who posted 18.
The Nuggets were led by Carmelo Anthony who notched a season high 32 points and 12 rebounds.
Despite posting uncharacteristic offensive outings, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odoms displayed effort on the boards, combining for a total of 22 rebounds.
The Lakers will return to the hardwood Sunday evening when they return to Staples Center to play host to their division rival Phoenix Suns. The last time the two teams faced off, the Lakers finished with the upper hand, knocking off Steve Nash and co. 114-106. The Purple and Gold were led by a near triple double from Pau Gasol, who finished with 21 points, 8 rebounds and 9 assists.