- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior Writer
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ONTARIO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers' signing of center Chris Kaman wasn't exactly a highlight. Coming just a couple days after Dwight Howard spurned the franchise by choosing to sign with the Houston Rockets, Kaman was something of an underwhelming consolation prize.
The Lakers, though, were thrilled. Kaman, they figured, might actually complement Pau Gasol in Mike D'Antoni's system, whereas Howard's presence essentially banished Gasol from the low post and out to the perimeter.
Tuesday night, they got their first official look at that theory, and the early returns were encouraging. Starting alongside each other for the first time, Gasol and Kaman showed flashes of some chemistry in the Lakers' 90-88 win over the Denver Nuggets at Citizens Business Bank Arena.
Gasol had 14 points and eight rebounds, and Kaman had 12 points and seven rebounds. Nice lines, both. But what was more impressive was the way they played with each other, and the budding chemistry between each of them and point guards Steve Blake and Steve Nash.
"Both of them can play a little bit of a stretch [forward], and both of them can post up," D'Antoni said before the game. "They can go back and forth.
"Last year, Dwight had to play inside, and Pau was outside. This year, one will be in and one will be out, but they can interchange. It just makes it easier that they can interchange a little bit, so that way we don't have to keep Pau outside all the time."
How it happened: The game turned into something of a defensive struggle early and never had much flow to it. The Lakers led by as many as 19 points in the third quarter before their reserves allowed the Nuggets to tighten things up in the fourth quarter and take the lead with 40 seconds to go. But Robert Sacre made two key free throws and teamed with Elias Harris to force a steal from Nuggets guard Evan Fournier to ice the win.
What it means: Not much of anything yet, since D'Antoni is determined to mix and match his lineups this season, based on the opponent. But the first returns on the question of whether the two 7-footers have any chemistry playing together seem to be positive.
Hits: Kobe Bryant returned to the team after leaving last week to have a procedure on his knee in Germany. He walked without a limp and without crutches into the arena and sat with his teammates on the bench for the entire game. Bryant said he felt great after the procedure but wouldn't know how much it helped for a while because he's still not able to run at full speed while he recovers from surgery on his Achilles.
Stat of the game: 22.7 percent. That's the shooting percentage to which the Lakers held the normally high-scoring Nuggets in the first half. Believe it or not, it was actually more a function of the Lakers playing good defense than the Nuggets shooting badly. Jordan Hill, as usual, stood out for his energy plays.
Up next: The Lakers will travel to Las Vegas on Wednesday afternoon for Thursday's game against the Sacramento Kings at the Thomas & Mack Center.
5dAmin Elhassan and Baxter Holmes