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Bryant can't repeat 42-point performance; Nuggets snap skid

DENVER (AP) -- Kobe Bryant has always had a knack for rising to
the occasion, hitting game-winning shots after spending the day in
a courtroom or scoring in bunches through choruses of boos.

It wasn't expected to be any different when he returned to
Colorado for the first time since sexual assault charges against
him were dropped.

This time, though, the Denver Nuggets never game him a chance.

Denver built a big early lead and held Bryant mostly in check,
ending a five-game losing streak with a 95-83 victory over the Los
Angeles Lakers on Wednesday night.

"The Nuggets just collapsed and forced me to keep the ball and
we just weren't hitting shots," Bryant said. "Sometimes you are
going to have nights like that. You just have to move on."

Bryant was accused of sexual assault in June 2003, though he
never missed a step on the court.

He played four times last season after spending the day in court
and was superb in each, hitting a shot at the buzzer to beat the
Nuggets and pouring in 42 points against San Antonio in the
playoffs. Bryant also averaged 31 points in two games in Denver
despite constant boos and chants of "Guilty! Guilty!"

The charges against Bryant were dropped on Sept. 1 because the
woman said she couldn't go through with the trial, so it made sense
that he'd have another big night in Denver -- especially after he
scored 42 points in a 99-91 Lakers' victory on Jan. 2.

The Nuggets made sure it never happened.

DerMarr Johnson and Greg Buckner, who missed the last
Nuggets-Lakers meeting, took turns hounding Bryant, and Denver
threw plenty of double-teams at him to prevent another scoring
outburst.

A 20-point lead by the third quarter certainly helped, and
Bryant made things easier on the Nuggets by deferring to his
teammates instead of taking shots down the stretch.

Bryant had 16 points, seven assists and five rebounds, but took
just 14 shots and wasn't much of a factor in the second half.

"It was a lot of people," Johnson said. "You can't guard him
alone. You need the help of teammates to keep him under control."

Bryant's teammates didn't help much, going 5-for-29 on
3-pointers and shooting 37 percent against a team that spent 10
hours getting back from Sacramento the night before.

"There was no response from the guys tonight," Lakers coach
Rudy Tomjanovich said.

Denver should have been sluggish after a nightmarish trip back
from Sacramento that included fog delays, a pilot overshooting the
runway and three-hour bus ride through snow.

Instead, the Nuggets played their most complete game yet under
interim coach Michael Cooper.

Crisp on offense and swarming on defense, Denver took control
with a 16-1 in the second quarter and never gave the Lakers much of
chance after that, building the lead to 20 before Los Angeles
chipped away with its starters on the bench.

Carmelo Anthony had his best shooting night in weeks, scoring 17
points on 7-of-14 shooting. Andre Miller added 15 points and seven
assists and Marcus Camby had 15 rebounds for Denver, which won for
just the third time in 16 games.

"Sometimes events like we through have a way of bringing people
together," Cooper said. "We spent a long time together on a
plane, on a bus. It obviously had some results."

Bryant played through a chorus of insults in the two games in
Denver last season, and heard plenty more jeers this time around.
He was greeted by resounding boos during pre-game introductions and
heard it every time he touched the ball.

But not everyone was anti-Kobe.

There was plenty of Lakers' purple and gold in the stands,
including numerous No. 8 jerseys, and camera phones flipped open in
all corners of the arena. A handful of fans behind the Lakers'
bench even cheered every time Bryant scored.

They just didn't have much to cheer about.

Bryant had 11 points and four assists by halftime, but just
didn't seem interested in keeping it going. He took just five shots
in the second half and spent the game's final five minutes on the
bench with the rest of the starters.

"It is not a big deal for me," Bryant said. "I have a lot of
support out here and it's not like you can please everybody all the
time. Some people are not going to like me, and some do. This game
was really not on my mind, it's just coming in and playing in
another city."

Game notes
Denver Broncos Al Wilson, Ashley Lelie, Rod Smith, Matt
Lepsis and former Broncos player Jarious Jackson attended the game.
... Denver ended its streak of trailing by at least 10 points at 12
games. ... The Lakers had won four straight against Denver.

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