Kobe Bryant can’t rescue misfiring Lakers

Tomorrow’s game story tonight …

Kobe Bryant swished one 3-pointer and then another and then another.

Suddenly, the Lakers had a chance to win where none existed moments earlier. All their missed shots and misplaced confidence was forgotten with three electric trips down the Staples Center court late Tuesday night.

Then, just as quickly, the cavernous arena went silent. Bryant could not rally the Lakers past the Denver Nuggets in Game 5 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series. He got them close, but their deficit was too great to make up.

After squandering almost all of a 15-point fourth-quarter lead, the Nuggets held on for a 102-99 victory and forced the Lakers to return to Denver for Game 6 on Thursday night. Game 7, if necessary, would be played Saturday at Staples Center.

The Lakers lead the best-of-7 series 3-2.

Bryant scored 43 points on 14-for-32 shooting, including 5 of 11 from beyond the 3-point arc. He found his touch only after the Lakers stumbled and bumbled their way to a double-digit deficit after a lackluster start to their first try at closing out the Nuggets.

“I wouldn’t say our energy kicked in, in the fourth quarter,” Bryant said. “I almost bailed us out, that’s what happened. it wasn’t the energy. I just started making shots left and right that got us back in the ballgame.

“That’s not something we can use to rely on to get us to the championship. We all have to step up and we all have to contribute and we all have to play with that kind of energy and sense of urgency.”

Denver played with all the fire and passion that was lacking in the Lakers’ game. The Nuggets couldn’t put away the Lakers only because they couldn’t stop Bryant in the fourth quarter, when he scored 14 points on 5-for-12 shooting.

Bryant’s flurry of 3s got the Lakers within 98-96 with 59.1 seconds remaining. After he and Denver guard Andre Miller traded misses, Al Harrington sank a free throw to give the Nuggets a 99-96 lead with 28.6 seconds left.

Bryant missed a 3, but after the Nuggets’ Ty Lawson made a free throw, the Lakers’ Ramon Sessions sank a 3 from the right wing to make it 100-99 with 14 seconds left. The Lakers had one more chance after Miller made two free throws.

Actually, they had two more shots at tying the score.

Bryant missed a 3 from the left wing and Sessions missed a 3 from the right.

That’s when Staples Center finally went silent.

“Nobody said this was going to be easy,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said. “We’re sitting in a good spot. We just made it tough on ourselves.”

Actually, Andrew Bynum said Monday he believed that close-out games were easy. What he forgot to mention is that they’re only easy if you play well.

The Lakers played like they thought they could just roll the ball onto the court and the Nuggets would run away in terror. Nuggets coach George Karl called Bynum’s comments bulletin board material.

Brown agreed when a reporter recalled Karl’s statement.

“If a guy wants to say that, he’s got to back it up,” Brown said.

Bynum scored 16 points on 5-for-8 shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds. But he couldn’t stop Denver’s JaVale McGee from swinging a game in the Nuggets’ favor with his hyperkinetic play around the basket for the second time in this series.

McGee scored 21 points on 9-for-12 shooting and took a team-leading 14 rebounds in a reserve role. He scored on a variety of dunks, hook shots and putbacks that had Bynum and fellow 7-footer Pau Gasol shaking their heads in frustration.

“Give McGee credit,” Brown said. “He was the difference in the game.”

Miller led the Nuggets with 24 points, and Arron Afflalo added 19 points.

Bryant, Bynum and Matt Barnes, who had 11 points, were the only Lakers to score in double figures. The Lakers made only 35 of 90 shots (38.9 percent). They missed 30 of their first 45 shots and trailed by 49-43 at halftime.

To be sure, the Lakers’ start wasn’t as poor as their no-show in the first half of Game 3 on Friday, and given all that went haywire, they could have been in far worse shape than to be down by only six points at halftime.

After all, they were down by 24 points early in the second quarter in Game 3. But they recovered nicely and won Game 4 with a fourth-quarter burst that included key 3-pointers from guards Sessions and Steve Blake.

The Lakers have closed out the opposition on the first try in 11 of their last 12 times since 2008. They also have won 33 of their last 34 series when having a chance to close out their opponent at any point. They blew a 3-1 lead to Phoenix in 2006.

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In the absence of World Peace, Ebanks and Barnes get high marks

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Their numbers have been mediocre at best and appalling at worst, but the Lakers said they wouldn’t be where they are without fill-ins Devin Ebanks and Matt Barnes. They wouldn’t have a chance to eliminate the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday without them.

Metta World Peace won’t play in what looms as a decisive Game 5 at Staples Center, sitting out the fifth game of a seven-game suspension for cracking James Harden of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the head with an elbow April 22.

The Lakers might have missed World Peace’s defensive tenacity and his resurgent offensive game at times during their Western Conference quarterfinal series against the Nuggets. The series might not have reached a Game 5 if he hadn’t been banned.

But the Lakers still hold a commanding 3-1 lead over the Nuggets, and the small forward position has been the least of their worries in their tune-up for a much-anticipated conference semifinal against the Thunder.

The Lakers’ only loss to the Nuggets, a clunker in Game 3 on Friday, wasn’t about offense or defense. It was about getting outrebounded by the energetic Nuggets and a poor start from center Andrew Bynum, who made amends in Game 4.

Ebanks filled in capably for World Peace (the former Ron Artest) in Game 1, scoring 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting. It’s been pretty much downhill for him ever since, if you look strictly at the statistics. He’s averaging five points and 4.3 rebounds.

Barnes’ hustle has been difficult to miss and is welcomed by Lakers coaches and players alike, but his poor shooting touch has been impossible to ignore, too. Barnes is averaging 3.5 points on 15.4 percent shooting (4 of 26) while serving as Ebanks’ backup.

“Oh, they’ve done a fantastic job,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said of Ebanks and Barnes. “Ebanks has really stepped up and proved his worth. When Metta gets back, I’m sure we’ll utilize him a great deal.”

Lakers coach Mike Brown bristled when asked if Ebanks and Barnes had “done enough” in the absence of World Peace, who averaged only 7.7 points during the regular season but scored in double figures in nine of his final 10 games.

“What’s your definition of enough?” Brown asked a reporter. “Does enough mean we’re up 3-1? Or does enough mean you’re looking strictly at their stats and trying to compare them to LeBron James’ stats at small forward?

“We’re up 3-1, so for me, we’ve gotten enough.”

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Lakers forward Jordan Hill ‘shocked’ by Houston assault charge

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Lakers power forward Jordan Hill said Tuesday night he was “shocked” to learn he had been charged Monday morning with a felony assault stemming from a Feb. 29 incident with a girlfriend while he was a member of the Houston Rockets.

Hill wasn’t sure whether he’d have to appear in court in Houston.

“Right now, I’m just letting my agent and attorney take care of it and we’ll see what’s going on,” the 24-year-old Hill said before the Lakers faced the Denver Nuggets in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series at Staples Center.

“I don’t know anything. I just got a phone call and I was definitely shocked, just like everybody else was. Just gotta deal with it.”

Hill declined to comment about the charge Monday, issuing a prepared statement through the Lakers and his agent, Kevin Bradbury. But he did say he didn’t expect to miss any playoff games or practices because of his legal situation.

“I have no idea,” Hill added Tuesday. “I’m just trying to focus on the game right now. This is the playoffs. I’m trying to get a ring for the first time. I want a ring. This is the first time I’ve been in the playoffs since I’ve been in the league.

“And I just want to go out there and have fun.”

The Harris County District Attorney charged Hill with striking his girlfriend, Darlene Luna, and placing her in a chokehold after an argument at Hill’s Houston home in February. The Lakers acquired Hill from the Rockets on March 15.

“I talked to him briefly,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said of Hill, who scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in his postseason debut in Game 1 on Sunday afternoon. “I don’t know what in his mind, but I don’t think it will effect him.”

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