Nuggets 113, Lakers 86

If you listened to Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson talk after Thursday’s game, you never would have guessed the Lakers lost their seventh consecutive game, the last four of which have hardly been competive. Those losses have come by 20, 16, 36 and 27 points, if you’re keeping score at home.

You could tell, though, that the stakes are higher for Lamar Odom. He’s not out risking further injury to his shoulder to watch the Lakers take an 11-point lead in the second quarter and then get outscored 77-39 the rest of the game.

“The way to get out of slumps or to get out of not playing well is when you’ve got teams down, when you’re hitting them, just don’t stop,” Odom said. “Just keep doing the small things right. It seems like we can’t do that. We had them right where we wanted. Carmelo (Anthony) was a little off in that first half.

“It’s like we don’t understand how to take advantage of things we need to take advantage of. It’s March.”

The Lakers squandered that lead so quickly, it was hard to figure out exactly how it happened. Allen Iverson started getting to the basket, J.R. Smith knocked down a 3-pointer and the Nuggets got a couple of fast break baskets. Smush Parker also picked up a key third foul late in the half.

“We didn’t make them burn a ton of energy to get it,” Luke Walton said. “We just turned the ball over, let them get layups and at halftime it was tied up again.”

Nobody expected the Lakers to experience immediate success with the returns of Odom and Walton. You had to expect, though, that the Lakers might push the Nuggets into the fourth quarter of a game that had implications for their playoff positioning. Now they have to beat a rested Portland team in the second game of a back-to-back set.

* * *

The worst thing that happened to the Lakers might have been Kobe Bryant’s fast start. The Nuggets started Steve Blake on Kobe Bryant but brought Linas Kleiza off the bench less than five minutes in to use his size (6-foot-8, 245 pounds) on Bryant.

Kleiza was the difference maker for the Nuggets in the first half, which he finished with 16 points. He hit 10 of 13 shots for the game, including five 3-pointers, and sent me to to look up his bio. He’s a Lithuanian-born forward, 22 years old, who played in college at Missouri. He also had 24 points Sunday against Sacramento.

Bryant left Kleiza on defense more than a couple of times and paid the price. Jackson said after the game: “We told the guys he was a straight shooter and a long shooter and played hard. He got all those things accomplished tonight in short order.

* * *

Stop if you’ve read this before: Smush Parker had another lost night for the Lakers. Parker obviously had a difficult matchup with Allen Iverson but the Lakers are going nowhere when they get four points on 1-of-8 shooting with five fouls in 20 minutes from their starting guard.

As soon as he finally hit a jumper in the third quarter, Parker picked up his fourth foul when Iverson drew contact on a drive. Jackson opted to keep him in the game but Parker had no choice but to commit his fifth foul with the Nuggets running back on a fast break with 5:11 left in the third.

“That’s a tough game for him,” Jackson said. “When you play against Iverson, he’s always going to create contact. You’re going to be at the mercy of the referees, what they want to call or not. He did a really good job on Iverson but it was the other guys, Kleiza, that got us tonight.”

Iverson finished with 15 points and 13 assists but made only 4 of 15 shots. He did punctuate the fourth quarter by serving up a lob for an alley-oop dunk by Carmelo Anthony that put the Nuggets ahead 107-82.

One thing I thought about tonight was how Jackson defines stars and role players in the NBA. He’s said it before that stars deliver seven games out of 10 or four out of five. You hope that your role players do their job, like knocking down open jumpers, in two or three out of five games.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get that consistency out of them. That quality of that effort is what the Lakers are trying to get out of Andrew Bynum right now. Then you watch Parker and he hasn’t been able to get anything going in the better part of two weeks. Forget three good games out of five. Jackson would settle for one right now.

* * *

Had to ask Kobe Bryant at the end of his postgame session about the seeming disconnect between the optimism he is expressing and the slide the Lakers are on. Here was his answer:

“We’re built on chemistry,” Bryant said. “That’s why I’m not really fretting or depressed because I feel like, we get these guys back, we start building on that rhythm again, I feel like we’ll be OK. Then the players that were forced to play 38, 40 minutes, now have more of a supporting role, which is a role they can flourish in.

“They were asked to do so much when guys went down in a system that they knew nothing about. It’s difficult for anybody to handle. But I feel like, we get these guys back who’ve been in this system, have those (other) guys come off the bench and make contributions, I feel like we’ll be OK.”

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

DENVER–There was the confidence voiced by Kobe Bryant, who preferred to block out what happened in the second half and talk about the “flashes the Lakers showed in the first half of Thursday nights 113-86 loss to the Denver Nuggets.

There was the pessimism voiced by Lamar Odom, who questioned whether his return from a torn labrum made a difference for a Lakers team in need of “soul searching after its seventh consecutive loss.

And there was the reassurance voiced by Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who watched his team squander an 11-point lead in the first half and take another step back in the playoff race, yet pledged that things would be fine going forward.

Maybe all three were correct as the Lakers matched the third-longest losing streak in franchise history. They fell into a tie with the Nuggets for sixth in the Western Conference standings yet spoke with encouragement about the playoffs afterward.

“We saw flashes of some of the things that were capable of doing in the first half, Bryant said. “We just have to build on that and understand that thats the team we really want to make some noise with in the playoffs.

Jackson took stock of Odoms return, as well as that of Luke Walton, and saw light at the end of the tunnel for the Lakers. This even though his team has lost its last three games by an average of 24.8 points.

“That starting group looks like theyre going to be fine, Jackson said. “Theyre back there again ready to play and I think well be OK. We just have to get our legs underneath us now and well be fine.

Linas Kleiza scored a career-high 29 points off the bench for the Nuggets while Carmelo Anthony (26 points) took over in the third quarter. What had been a tie game at halftime saw Denver take an 87-72 lead into the fourth quarter at Pepsi Center.

It was a dark finish to a day that saw both Jackson and the Lakers fined $50,000 for comments Jackson made on Tuesday charging that the league was conducting a “witch hunt in disciplining Bryant this season.

“Any response I make to that is going to be inflammatory, Bryant said, “and I really dont want to add fuel to that fire.

The Lakers were playing with their top starting five – – Smush Parker, Bryant, Walton, Odom and Kwame Brown – – for only the seventh time this season and the first time since Dec. 12, when Odom suffered a sprained knee ligament against Houston.

They showed maybe theres a reason why the Lakers were 5-1 in games with that starting lineup earlier this season. The connection between the five was apparent as the Lakers broke to a 13-6 lead in the first quarter.

The Lakers ran their offense through Bryant inside and the star guard was at his dynamic best. He finished the first quarter with 10 points and six assists, finding Walton and Shammond Williams for 3-pointers and feeding Brown for a dunk.

“I was actually surprised by how well we clicked in the first half considering we havent played together all year, said Bryant, who finished with 25 points on 9-of-19 shooting with nine assists.

With the Lakers facing a Everest-like climb just to match last seasons 45-37 record, Jackson talked in recent days about trying to get as many players back healthy and build some momentum heading into the playoffs.

Odom finished with nine points, seven rebounds and three assists in 32 minutes but made just 4 of 11 shots. Walton totaled 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists before Jackson thought he ran out of gas.

Odoms comments after the game reflected the investment he has made in these final 18 games. He is playing with a shoulder injury that likely will require surgery after the season.

“I felt all right, Odom said. “I dont think it made a difference, though. We need soul searching as a team. Weve got to all be aiming for the same thing. If were not, this is going to be hard to overcome.

The losing streak is now the Lakers third-longest; they also dropped seven consecutive games in the 1991-92 season. If they lose tonight against Portland, the Lakers would match the eight-game skid from the dark days of the 2004-05 season.

Once upon a time, Jackson coached a Chicago Bulls team that lost only 10 games all season on the way to posting the best record in NBA history at 72-10. Now the losing knows no end, with the Lakers falling for the 13th time in 16 games.

After watching the Lakers give back their second-quarter lead, Jackson said, “We knew that momentum would kind of ride them the second half and it did.

The picture of the third quarter was Allen Iverson twirling his arms, exhorting the crowd to its feet as the Nuggets started rolling. They got two 3-pointers from Kleiza and Steve Blake as well as dunks by Nene and Marcus Camby.

Then there was Anthony, the player Bryant counseled during his 15-game suspension for fighting earlier this season. Anthony was brilliant in the third quarter and Odom was all but powerless to stop him.

Anthony scored 10 points with four assists in the quarter. Even when the Lakers switched Bryant onto him, Anthony hit a turnaround jumper over him. The Nuggets flattened the Lakers 36-21 in the third quarter and 62-35 in the second half.

“We just have to win games, Jackson said. “Its not about Denver. Its not about anybody. Its just about us. Right now we just have to play basketball and find a way back. Im confident this team will be fine. Theyll be OK.