Lakers end Denver drought behind Bryant
Kobe Bryant blasted the Denver crowd by day and quieted it at night.
After criticizing Denver fans for booing Carmelo Anthony, Bryant gave the Pepsi Center crowd little to cheer about, as he led the Los Angeles Lakers past the Nuggets, 107-97 on Friday night.
Bryant scored 14 of his 18 points in the decisive third quarter and was one of five Lakers to score at least 17. Ron Artest scored a season-best 19 as did Pau Gasol. Lamar Odom had 18 and Andrew Bynum 17.
”Every one of their big guys had a big game,” Nuggets coach George Karl lamented.
After frittering away double-digit leads in their last three games, the Lakers never let up after grabbing a 10-point advantage in the third quarter.
Anthony led Denver with 23 points after missing shootaround to attend to a personal matter. Arron Afflalo chipped in 22, but the Nuggets repeatedly failed to find him in their second-half rotations and Bryant went off in the third quarter, helping the Lakers take control.
Bryant said his quiet first half was by design.
”It’s important for me to keep my guys involved, and build their confidence. I know I can score at any moment or get looks at any moment,” he said. ”The third quarter I was able to do that.”
The Nuggets had won seven of their previous nine regular-season games against Los Angeles at the Pepsi Center, but the Lakers’ size bettered Denver’s speed as the Nuggets lost for just the fifth time in 24 home games.
Led by Gasol’s 13 boards and 10 from Odom, the Lakers outrebounded the Nuggets 47-27.
”They’re trees down there,” Anthony said. ”And they bring Lamar, another 7-footer, off the bench, and he does the same thing: attack the offensive glass, putbacks.”
Bulk beat the break on this night. Although speedy Ty Lawson managed 15 points, the Lakers held the Nuggets to just four fast-break points and most of the time they got back to set up their defense before Denver could beat them to the basket.
”Size won tonight,” Karl said. ”Even when we did some good things defensively, we didn’t rebound the ball. The hope of playing with speed is you’ve got to rebound the ball and get more than four fast-break points.”
Chauncey Billups said the Nuggets didn’t push the pace like they should have in the third quarter, ”but that was because they were kind of scoring every time. It’s tough to get a fast break when you’re taking it out.”
Bryant, who gets booed in Denver every time he touches the ball, called out the Nuggets fans who have been jeering Anthony over his trade stance. On Thursday, he said they were stupid for booing Anthony after his 35-point performance against Oklahoma City this week, and on Friday at shootaround he called them idiots.
”Melo’s a good friend of mine and it’s the truth,” Bryant said after the game. ”It’s stupid. You don’t boo him. It’s silly. You boo him the first time, let him know how you feel and get over it.”
Bryant suggested that if Anthony were at all waffling about his desire for a trade, the Nuggets fans’ hostile treatment might just push the All-Star forward out of Denver.
Anthony has been the subject of trade talk since refusing to sign a three-year, $65 million extension last summer. Nuggets general manager Masai Ujiri said after the New Jersey Nets halted negotiations on their latest blockbuster proposal Wednesday that he was still in talks with several other teams about a possible trade for Anthony.
Afflalo’s fourth 3-pointer of the night gave Denver a 52-49 lead at the break. But Bryant helped the Lakers surge ahead, taking an 82-72 lead into the fourth quarter that was never challenged.
Before tip-off, Karl said he’s kept a sense of humor about the never-ending Melo Drama out of necessity because his doctors have told him to keep his stress levels low after battling throat and neck cancer last year. He said his blood pressure is good, his blood work fine and his sleep patterns good.
”Two things I used to do is drink too many beers and eat in excess. Now, I don’t do either, so I’m fine in that area,” Karl said. ”And I think I’m actually laughing at situations a little bit, trying to laugh with it and joke with it.”
With Ujiri and team president Josh Kroenke keeping a low profile, Karl has been the point man for the organization on all matters involving his star.
”I can’t deny that in the last two or three weeks it’s gotten a little tiring,” Karl said. ”But in the same sense, I’ve had fun with it. There’s some laughter going on.”
Asked if he thought this spectacle might last right up to the Feb. 24 trade deadline, Karl said, ”I think it could go farther than that. I’ve definitely written some thoughts about it on paper, if that happens, what I need to do, what I need to prepare for.”
The Nuggets wouldn’t necessarily risk losing Anthony to free agency without compensation next summer because they could still trade him between the end of their season and June 30. Karl said he’s spoken with Ujiri about all the possible scenarios but wanted to keep those conversations between the two of them.
NOTES: The Lakers are the only NBA team with a winning record against the Nuggets in Denver (42-32). … There were only 11 free throws shot in the first half.