Lakers-Nuggets Preview

It may have taken longer than expected, but the Los Angeles

Lakers are finally starting to look like a force to be reckoned

with.

The Lakers try to extend their winning streak to six for the

first time in two seasons Wednesday night against the Denver

Nuggets, who’ve proven nearly unbeatable on their home court.

Los Angeles (14-14) appears to have found it its stride after

getting off to a rough start. The Lakers, who’ve averaged 106.4

points during their run, got back to .500 for the first time since

Nov. 30, with a 100-94 victory over New York on Christmas Day.

“Sometimes when you start winning you expect to win,” coach Mike

D’Antoni said. “You do the right thing. … I just think we’re

getting a good shot every time we’re down. You do that and good

things are going to happen.”

Averaging 33.8 points in 12 games this month, Kobe Bryant scored

34 while Dwight Howard had 14 to go along with 12 rebounds for Los

Angeles, which outscored the Knicks 46-26 in the paint.

“The last five games we have done a good job of moving the ball

and playing together,” said Bryant, who’s scored at least 30 in

nine straight contests. “We continue to compete. We continue to

play hard and read the defense and try to make the right

plays.”

Some of the Lakers’ recent success can also be attributed to

Steve Nash’s return to the court. The two-time league MVP posted

season highs of 16 points and 11 assists Tuesday in his second game

back after missing 24 due to a fracture in his left leg.

“Well it’s a lot,” D’Antoni said in regards to Nash being the

missing piece. “A point guard like him has that respect. A lot of

it is just the credibility that he has built up over the years. And

he is good. It just puts everything into perspective and calms

everybody down. It gives you the chance to win every night.

“I don’t know if he’s all of it but he’s maybe the last piece

that makes it work. There are a lot of pieces that you have to

have. A lot of guys are contributing.”

Having boarded a flight to Denver shortly after Tuesday

afternoon’s victory, the Lakers could be a bit more rested for this

game than the Nuggets (15-14), who fell 112-100 to the Clippers in

the second half of a doubleheader at Staples Center.

Kosta Koufos had a season best-tying 16 points on 8-of-8

shooting and 10 boards for Denver, which took a one-point lead into

the second quarter before getting outscored 42-22 over the next 12

minutes.

While the Nuggets have gone 7-13 on the road, they’ve won eight

of nine on their own court – including six straight since falling

98-93 to Miami on Nov. 15. They’re also 10-5 against the Lakers in

Denver since 2004-05.

Los Angeles, however, has strung together three consecutive

victories in this series, taking the only meeting this season

122-103 on Nov. 30. Howard had 28 points and 20 rebounds while

Bryant had a season-low 14 points. Bryant is averaging 16.8 points

in four games against Denver since the start of last season,

compared to 29.1 against everybody else.

Denver leading scorer Danilo Gallinari had a team-best 19 points

in the first meeting but was limited to seven points on 1-of-10

shooting against the Clippers.