Bryant had 25 points, seven assists and three blocked shots, and
Chris Mihm added a career-high 23 points and 12 rebounds Tuesday
night as the Lakers never trailed in beating the Denver Nuggets
"It was fun. We had a blast out there, especially
defensively," Bryant said following the Lakers' first game in
eight years without Shaquille O'Neal on their roster.
It was also Rudy Tomjanovich's first game as the Lakers' coach.
He succeeded Phil Jackson, who coached the team to three
championships and another berth in the NBA Finals in five years.
"I'm glad that's over," Tomjanovich said with a big smile. "I
thought our defense was just excellent. That's what we need to be a
The Nuggets, one of the NBA's most improved teams last season,
shot a horrific 34.1 percent (30-of-88) including 25 percent
(11-of-44) in the first half.
Bryant shot just 5-of-14 but made 14 of 15 foul shots. He scored
17 points after halftime.
"We really did well with our execution and our ball movement,"
Bryant said. "We competed hard and we played together, and that
pleased me very much. We prepared very well. We knew what they were
going to do defensively and we worked off it."
The Lakers led by as many as 20 points in the fourth quarter
before the Nuggets rallied within seven in the final minute. But
that's as close as they would get.
Voshon Lenard scored 13 points for the Nuggets before tearing
his left Achilles' tendon with 4:42 left in the third quarter. He
will undergo surgery and probably be sidelined for the season, a
team spokeswoman said.
A downcast Lenard declined comment after the game.
"Losing Voshon is the worst," Marcus Camby said. "Losing a
game, I mean, we weren't going to go 82-0. We just have to regroup,
"My stomach dropped. I feel for the guy. It's the first game of
the season and he's maybe done for a long time. I just hope for the
best for the guy. It's really hard to come back from an injury like
that, but he's still going to be with us in spirit and in our
Carmelo Anthony led Denver with 20 points. Kenyon Martin,
playing his first game for the Nuggets, had 13 points, seven
rebounds and five assists, and Camby had 16 rebounds and six
blocked shots to go with eight points.
"This wasn't the real Nuggets team, especially in that first
half, but give the Lakers credit," Nuggets coach Jeff Bzdelik
said. "I'm sure they had a lot to do with it."
Baskets by Bryant and Butler in the opening minute of the third
quarter put the Lakers on top 54-31. Bryant scored eight points in
the final five minutes of the quarter, helping the Lakers extend
their lead to 72-57.
Bryant spoke briefly before the opening tipoff, thanking fans
for their support. Then, instead of taking over the offense as many
expected, he deferred to Mihm, who had 19 points and nine rebounds
in the first half as the Lakers took a 50-31 lead.
"This is a good situation -- a good fit for me on this team,"
Mihm said. "It's a great start for the season. I'm a happy man, I
can sleep well tonight. I played well and more important, the team
The Lakers have won 12 of their last 13 home openers and 15
of their last 16 home games against the Nuggets. ... Denver went
from 17-65 two years ago to 43-39 and a playoff berth last season.
"The next jump, I think, is going to be more difficult," Bzdelik
said. ... The Lakers have only four players on their active roster
returning from last season -- Bryant, third-year guard Kareem Rush,
and second-year forwards Cook and Luke Walton. ... The Nuggets have
four newcomers -- Martin, DerMarr Johnson, Greg Buckner and Bryon
Russell, who played for the Lakers last season.
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