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Lakers avoid stumble at start of trip with 93-89 win over Nuggets

By Ben Bolch, Los Angeles Times –

DENVER — The Los Angeles Lakers arrived here ahead of the winter storm that blanketed the area with more than a foot of snow, causing near-whiteout conditions amid swirling winds and frigid temperatures.

Their good fortune continued with a flurry of big fourth-quarter plays, as they held off the Denver Nuggets for a 93-89 victory on Friday night at the Pepsi Center.

Andrew Bynum made several power moves and Derek Fisher sank a late jumper and contributed a steal in the final minute.

The Lakers couldn’t exhale until Denver’s Al Harrington missed a step-back three-pointer that would have given the Nuggets the lead in the final seconds. Matt Barnes grabbed the rebound and was fouled, making two free throws with .02 of a second to play to extend the Lakers’ lead to an insurmountable four points.

It was a soulful start to the Grammy trip for the Lakers, who have won two consecutive road games for the first time this season.

“It was big,” said Bynum, who had 22 points on 10-for-13 shooting to go with 10 rebounds in his first game since learning he would be an All-Star for the first time. “We need to get all six of these games.”

Forward Pau Gasol added 13 points and 17 rebounds, though he made one costly late turnover when he lost the ball in the final minute while attempting to dribble behind his back.

Denver’s Nene pulled his team to within 91-89 with 28 seconds left with a ferocious dunk. Kobe Bryant then found Bynum under the basket and he was seemingly fouled by Nene, who blocked his shot. The ball went out of bounds to the Nuggets with 11 seconds remaining before Harrington’s final shot missed.

Bryant scored 20 points on seven-for-23 shooting, but the Lakers’ other All-Star had nine assists and could shrug off another subpar shooting effort here after his team improved to 3-7 on the road. Bryant was particularly assertive in the second half, scoring 15 points.

“I was just getting more aggressive,” said Bryant, who made only two of 10 shots in the first half. “In the first half, I had some easy shots that I missed.”

In two games in Denver this season, Bryant has made 13 of 51 shots.

The Lakers helped the Nuggets get back in the game in the fourth quarter, with Bynum and Barnes both picking up technical fouls. Bynum’s technical came early in the quarter when he exchanged words with Denver’s Kosta Koufos after Koufos had fouled Bynum under the basket.

“I was just a little mad because he was bumping me, he was trying to be real physical and it was a hard foul,” Bynum said.

A few minutes later, Barnes was called for a technical for swinging his elbows when he stood on the perimeter with the ball, and a Lakers lead that had been eight points midway through the quarter was eventually whittled to one on a three-pointer by Harrington that pulled the Nuggets within 84-83.

The Lakers’ bench, which had provided 48 points on Tuesday during a rout of Charlotte, couldn’t sustain the effort, though rookie Andrew Goudelock continued his strong play with 13 points on six-for-10 shooting.

Bryant struggled with his shooting, but he was plenty effective distributing the ball, his five first-half assists including a pair of alley-oop passes to Bynum.

The Lakers won’t have much time to contemplate what happened Friday. Weather permitting, their itinerary takes them to Utah on Saturday, followed by games against Philadelphia, Boston, New York and Toronto next week. The games against the Celtics and Knicks are back-to-back.

One Laker who made the trip but is not expected to play is Steve Blake. Coach Mike Brown said the reserve point guard, sidelined since Jan. 11 by a rib cartilage injury, was “still a ways away.”

Judging by their performance Friday, the Lakers may be getting closer to road respectability.


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