Bryant shoots 15-for-26, Lakers roll

DENVER (AP) -- A lopsided victory over one of the league's worst
teams shouldn't cause much excitement for a team that has won three
straight championships.

But with the way this season has gone, the Los Angeles Lakers
will take any victory they can get.

Kobe Bryant scored 19 of his 39 points in the first quarter, and
Shaquille O'Neal added 22 as the Lakers beat the struggling Denver
Nuggets 112-93 on Saturday night.

"We're not down about it, we're not holding our heads down
about it, we're actually starting to get excited about accepting
this challenge,'' said Bryant, who added six assists and six
rebounds. "Our competitive juices are starting to flow because of
the challenge that we've been presented.''

It wasn't perfect, but it was a step in the right direction for
Los Angeles after losing four of its previous five.

The Lakers had 18 turnovers and allowed Denver to climb most of
the way back from an 18-point deficit in the first half, but still
found a way to tie a season high in points and assists (36).

O'Neal, in his first game since getting married Thursday, added
13 rebounds and blocked three shots as the Lakers won for the
fourth time in 14 road games.

"Outside of turnovers tonight, I was pleased with the way we
played basketball,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We had two
or three turnovers that hampered a terrific effort, but we were
ready to play the game.''

Bryant was a big reason.

Irritated after hitting just 7-of-24 shots in a 105-99 loss to
Sacramento on Christmas, Bryant seemed to have a gleam in his eyes
when the Nuggets opened with rookie Vincent Yarbrough on him. He
didn't blink when Ryan Bowen and White took over, either.

Bryant opened with a long jump shot, then hit a fadeaway and
another long jumper. He followed with a tough reverse, a
three-point play in the lane and a left-handed reverse in traffic.

Bryant ended it with another reverse and a fadeaway with 8.2
seconds left to finish the quarter 9-for-9.

"He truly is one of the great superstars in this league and he
showed it tonight,'' said Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik, whose team
has lost nine straight and 14 of 15.

But Bryant wasn't finished.

Denver closed the first half with a 15-6 run to cut the Lakers'
lead to eight at halftime, then got it to 62-59 with eight minutes
left in the third when Juwan Howard flipped a pass behind his back
to Mark Blount for a dunk.

Bryant took over from there, scoring nine points as the Lakers
started to pull away. He hit a turnaround with 1:51 left, then
followed with a near-impossible fadeaway over Rodney White.

Bryant ended the quarter by stepping back for a 3-pointer with
2.2 seconds left, hopping on one foot for emphasis as the ball fell
through for an 82-69 lead.

"I had a tough shooting night against Sacramento and I wanted
to come out shooting better,'' said Bryant, who was 15-for-26.

The Lakers blew a 12-point lead in the loss to the Kings, but it
didn't carry over early against the Nuggets.

Los Angeles hit its first 10 shots to open a 21-7 lead, and was
14-for-18 in the first quarter to lead 31-18.

It was going so well that O'Neal ran the break midway through
the first, grabbing a rebound and driving nearly the length of the
court before hitting Bryant for an alley-oop dunk.

"We've been struggling, they're a young team that's been
struggling, so we need to take what we can get,'' Lakers guard
Brian Shaw said.

The Nuggets hadn't played in six days, and it showed.

Los Angeles hit a season-best 58 percent of its shots and held
the Nuggets to a season-low 25 rebounds.

Denver (6-23), which fell to 0-15 when allowing 90 points or
more, is off to its worst start since opening the 1997-98 season

"The two things that have been a constant for us all year --
defense and rebounding -- were totally absent tonight,'' Bzdelik
said. "We were destroyed on the boards. Defensively, we were very
poor contesting shots, very poor pressuring the ball on the
perimeter. We forgot about those two things.''

Howard led Denver with 20 points, White added 16 and Donnell
Harvey had 14.

Game notes
Lakers F Samaki Walker didn't make the trip after coming
down with tonsillitis Friday. He's also not expected to play
against Toronto on Sunday. ... G John Crotty played his first game
since signing with Denver last Sunday. He had seven points and five
assists. ... The Lakers were called for a rare 8-second backcourt
violation at the end of the second quarter when Bryant took his
time bringing the ball up.


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