Nuggets serve early notice that they're contenders
DENVER (AP)The Denver Nuggets served notice on two fronts with their dismantling of the Los Angeles Lakers: Last year was no fluke and this year they're legit.
The Nuggets (7-3), overlooked by prognosticators after everybody else in the West seemed to sign a superstar over the summer, whipped the Pau Gasol-less Lakers 105-79 Friday night.
The beating was so thorough that Lakers coach Phil Jackson summoned his starters and top reserves to the bench late in the third quarter after Luke Walton dislocated a finger in the frenzy.
He said with things going from bad to worse, it was best to just get this one over with.
The Lakers were outscored 29-8 in that third quarter, when L.A. shot 4 for 20, and Kobe Bryant was shut out after scoring 19 points by halftime.
"They beat the hell out of us," Bryant said after his first scoreless half in five years. "I don't know if we had Pau it would have made any difference."
Carmelo Anthony, who led Denver with 25 points in 29 efficient minutes, said there was a little bit of playoff payback on the Nuggets' minds after their 4-2 loss to the Lakers in the Western Conference finals five months ago.
And it all coalesced coming out of the locker room after halftime.
"To hold a team like that to eight points in the third quarter? We did something incredible that third quarter," Anthony said.
The eight points tied a Nuggets record for fewest points allowed in a single quarter, and it was just two shy of tying the Lakers' mark for futility in a single quarter, set 32 years ago against Chicago.
"I think it was the best quarter I've seen our team play against a special team, maybe since I've been in Denver," said Nuggets coach George Karl. "It was intense, focused, disciplined, and the offense rewarded the defense by converting plays."
Chauncey Billups suggested the rout was all the more impressive considering the Nuggets were coming off a six-game trip and had only practiced twice since opening night.
Yet, all the Nuggets wanted to talk about afterward was rookie Ty Lawson's first NBA dunk, when the 5-foot-11 guard skied past 7-footer D.J. Mbenga and 6-9 forward Josh Powell for the slam as he was hammered to the floor for a three-point play that had his teammates bolting from their seats and celebrating with the crowd as if they had won just the West.
"That was nasty," Anthony said. "A 5-footer against two 7-footers."
"That was incredible," Billups said.
Even Lawson was taken aback.
"It was crazy," he said. "They didn't think I was going to do that. I didn't think I was going to do that until I got right at the rim. I knew if I floated it, they were going to swat it right into the stands."
While so much was made in the offseason of how the Lakers augmented their championship resume with the signing of Ron Artest, the Nuggets quietly improved their versatility and offense with the additions of Aaron Afflalo and Lawson and the subtractions of Dahntay Jones and Linas Kleiza.
Jackson was glad to finally have the muscle to face 'Melo with Artest, but even he needed help and couldn't play Anthony straight up.
"I don't really think it's possible to have a 'Melo stopper," Anthony said. "No team in the NBA will just let me play 1-on-1 against them. They just won't do it."
Especially with Anthony's emergence this season into elite status, something Karl attributes to having taken the Nuggets through two rounds of the NBA playoffs last year.
And Denver's roadblock in the conference championships was on their minds Friday night when they blew out the Lakers.
"I don't know what it really does for our psyche," Billups said, "because even though they beat us last year, we had our opportunities to extend that series and had a chance to win it and we know that."
Billups stewed all summer.
"The way that we played them the last game here in our building was embarrassing, so we wanted to come out here and just kind of keep that rivalry alive," Billups said.
So, is this the NBA's newest budding rivalry?
"Yeah, sure. It's probably developing into that," Bryant said. "We'll probably see them in the playoffs again."