Regular Season Series (Game 4 of 4)

Series starts 12/28

Game 1: Saturday, December 28th
Game 2: Tuesday, February 11th
Game 3: Wednesday, February 12th
Game 4: Tuesday, April 15th

Nuggets 104


Lakers 126

(49-32, 31-10 home)

    Coverage: FSRM

    7:30 PM ET, April 15, 2003

    STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA

    1 2 3 4 T
    DEN 24 17 32 31104
    LAL 42 27 34 23126

    Top Performers

    Denver: M. Camby 17 Pts, 14 Reb, 3 Ast, 1 Blk

    Los Angeles: K. Bryant 32 Pts, 8 Reb, 4 Ast, 2 Stl, 1 Blk

    Bryant scores 20 of 32 points in fourth quarter

    LOS ANGELES (AP) -- It's official: The Los Angeles Lakers will open their quest for a fourth straight NBA championship on the road.

    Kobe Bryant

    "Let's go,'' Kobe Bryant said.

    Bryant scored 20 of his 32 points in the first quarter, and Shaquille O'Neal added 19 points Tuesday night as the Lakers took command early in beating the hapless Denver Nuggets 126-104.

    The win was the seventh in eight games for the Lakers, but they lost any chance of getting home-court advantage in the first round when Portland beat Phoenix 120-102.

    The Lakers will finish fifth or sixth in the Western Conference, depending on what happens Wednesday night in the final games of the regular season. They open the playoffs Saturday or Sunday at Dallas, Minnesota or Portland.

    If Minnesota beats Memphis and Portland beats the Los Angeles Clippers, the Lakers will finish sixth and face Dallas in the first round.

    "I'm not worried about anything, really,'' Bryant said. "You're going to have to win on the road. The seventh game last year was in Sacramento, and we were pretty excited and happy that we were on the road. We were pumped up: `Let's go get these guys.'"

    Bryant referred to the deciding game of the Western Conference finals, which the Lakers won 112-106 in overtime.

    The Lakers lost their chance at finishing fourth in the West and getting home-court advantage in the first round when they were beaten 101-99 Sunday at Portland.

    "After dropping that game, we realized we had to depend on somebody else to get that position,'' Derek Fisher said.

    Rookie Jannero Pargo scored a career-high 18 points and Rick Fox added 11 for the Lakers, who won their 15th straight home game.

    "It's a good feeling,'' Pargo said. "As a rookie, you need a game like that to convince yourself you belong in this league.''

    Pargo averaged 2.0 points in his previous 34 games with the Lakers.

    Juwan Howard scored 19 points and Marcus Camby had 17 points and 14 rebounds for the Nuggets, who have lost seven straight games and 13 of their last 16.

    "The game was pretty much over after the first quarter,'' Camby said. "We're not a team that scores a lot of points, so it's hard for us to play catchup.''

    Camby believes the Lakers have a good shot at defending their championship.

    "They've won three in a row, so you have to say they're the favorites,'' he said.

    Bryant had been reluctant to shoot early in recent games, instead trying to involve his teammates, especially O'Neal.

    A good example was Sunday at Portland, when Bryant scored all but four of his 36 points in the second half.

    But it was a different story in this game. Bryant shot 6-of-9, including 2-of-3 from 3-point range, and went 6-of-7 from the foul line in the first quarter.

    He also had four rebounds, two assists, two steals and only one turnover in the period.

    "I think Phil wants me to be more assertive at the beginning of the game, so that's what I tried to do tonight,'' Bryant said, referring to coach Phil Jackson.

    Bryant and O'Neal both sat out the fourth quarter. Bryant wound up playing 26 minutes and O'Neal 24.

    The Lakers led by as many as 19 points before settling for a 42-24 lead after the first quarter. O'Neal didn't attempt a field goal until Bryant fed him for a layup after 10½ minutes of play.

    The Lakers shot 12-of-20, including 6-of-9 from beyond the arc in the period, while the Nuggets went 9-of-26.

    The Nuggets weren't closer than 14 points after that.

    Reserves played most of the second quarter for the Lakers. Pargo made a pair of 3-pointers to extend the Lakers' lead to 55-33 midway through the period.

    The Lakers led 69-41 at halftime, and the Nuggets didn't threaten after that. It was 103-73 entering the fourth quarter.

    Game notes

    The Lakers' 42 points were the most they've scored in a first quarter this season, and their 126 points were a season high. ... O'Neal got his 9,000th career rebound in the third period. ... The Lakers (49-32) play at Golden State in their regular-season finale, while the Nuggets (17-64) entertain Houston. ... The Lakers won the first three games against the Nuggets this season by an average of 19.3 points, with Bryant averaging 44. ... Bryant needs to score 43 points at Golden State to raise his season average to 30. Bryant and Orlando's Tracy McGrady could become the first pair to average 30 points in the same season since Michael Jordan and Karl Malone 13 years ago. ... The Nuggets were 4-38 on the road and lost their last 17 road games against Western Conference opponents. ... Denver F Donnell Harvey, averaging 8.0 points and 5.4 rebounds, didn't play because of illness.

    Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


    Team Stat Comparison

    Points 104 126
    FGM-FGA 40-91 (.440) 43-87 (.494)
    3PM-3PA 3-15 (.200) 14-27 (.519)
    FTM-FTA 21-27 (.778) 26-35 (.743)
    Rebounds (Offensive-Total) 14-42 14-46
    Assists 30 28
    Turnovers 19 22
    Steals 13 8
    Blocks 5 6
    Fast Break Points 7 5
    Fouls (Tech/Flagrant) 24 (0/0) 25 (1/0)

    Top Performers

    Los Angeles
    Marcus Camby Camby
    Points: 17
    Reb: 14
    Ast: 3
    Stl: 0
    Blk: 1
    Kobe Bryant Bryant
    Points: 32
    Reb: 8
    Ast: 4
    Stl: 2
    Blk: 1