DENVER – The Lakers soon replaced their festive spirit with sluggish movement as they navigated the Rocky Mountain altitude.
The Lakers soon replaced their nostalgia over Steve Nash restoring stability with a defense so porous that a revamped offense couldn’t absorb it. The Lakers soon replaced a five-game winning streak into a 126-114 loss Wednesday to the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center.
No one epitomized the Lakers’ ineffectiveness and frustration more than Dwight Howard. Struggling all night in matching the Nuggets’ energy, Howard knocked Denver forward Kenneth Faried to the ground on his way to the basket. Officials assessed Howard with a flagrant foul type 2, resulting in an immediate ejection with 5:02 remaining in the third quarter.
It remains to be seen whether the NBA will levy Howard with a fine or a suspension. But Howard’s frustration moments after his ejection while the fans at Pepsi Center jeered at him told the whole story. He finished with only 15 points on 4 of 6 shooting and seven rebounds, while going 4 of 9 from the free throw line in 27 minutes.
The Nuggets (16-14) made the the Lakers (14-15) look outmatched in other areas only a night after playing with promise against the New York Knicks.
The Nuggets outrebounded the Lakers, 48-38. Denver center JaVale McGee drove down the lane unguarded for a dunk on one play, prompting Howard and Nash to exchange words on the poor defensive rotation. Kenneth Faried’s 21 points on 9 of 13 shooting and 15 rebounds far exceeded the any energy the Lakers displayed. Faried dove into a coutside seat to retrieve a loose ball one play. He outmuscled the Lakers, namely Howard and Pau Gasol, on plenty of others to finish with 11 points and nine rebounds in the first quarter.
The miscues continued following Howard’s ejection. McGee threw down an alley oop lob that Gasol didn’t even bother contesting. The Lakers displayed the same lackadaisical attitude as Denver fired 12 of 22 from three-point range. The same mindset percolated when reserve Corey Brewer, of all people, looked like an All-Star with 27 points on 9 of 16 of shooting, including a 6 of 7 clip from three-point range.
Add it all up, and all the defensive lapses proved too large for the Lakers to overcome despite a prolific offense.
Bryant scored a team-leading 40 points on 13 of 24 shooting, marking his 10th consecutive game he posted at least 30 points. Nash looked as efficient as ever, contributing 15 points on a 6 of 8 clip with eight assists. The often maligned Pau Gasol tallied 19 points as Nash’s presence helped find him easier baskets.
But that wasn’t enough.
Lakers forward Metta World Peace could’ve cut the Lakers’ deficit to five late in the fourth quarter. But his missed layup spurred Danilo Gallinari into making an open 3-pointer, extending the Nuggets’ cushion to 116-106 with 3:46 remaining.
That play represented three things. World Peace had a rare off night, posting 10 points on only 4 of 13 shooting before fouling out with 2:07 left in the game. The Lakers’ bench combined for an 11 of 34 clip. The Lakers also failed to neutralize the Nuggets’ offense with enough speed and aggression.
And once it all ended, the Lakers showed as they have all season how their output hasn’t always matched their talent.