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Bryant helps Lakers cap four-game sweep of Nuggets

Apr 29, 2008 - 7:11 AM DENVER (Ticker) -- Kobe Bryant made sure the Los Angeles Lakers brought out the broom.

Bryant scored 31 points and made several key baskets late in the fourth quarter as the Lakers completed four-game sweep with a 107-101 victory over the Denver Nuggets in their Western Conference opening-round series.

Pau Gasol scored 18 of his 21 in the first half and Lamar Odom added 14 and 12 rebounds as the Lakers advanced out of the first time since 2003-04 season - which finished with a trip to the NBA Finals.

"It feels good to win the way we did," Bryant said. "I'm very fortunate to be on a team that has great chemistry and meshes well. This is a big step for us to be able to close a series out like this. We kept our composure in the third when they made their run.

"The Nuggets stepped up their energy and on defense they got in the passing lanes. This is a big step for our maturity. I've been fortunate enough to win three titles, so getting out of the first round isn't a big deal for me."

Los Angeles will face the winner between the Utah Jazz and Houston Rockets in the second round. Utah holds a commanding 3-1 lead in the series going into Game Five on Wednesday.

Bryant not only lit up the scoreboard, but he flashed his all-around game as well. The two-time scoring champion had seven assists, six rebounds, three steals and two blocks.

The 6-6 Bryant poured in seven straight points to help the Lakers grab a 95-90 advantage with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

But reserve J.R. Smith went on a personal short surge of his own, scoring six points in a row to put the Nuggets ahead by one. Smith finished with a playoff career-high 26 points.

However, Bryant buried a 21-footer right in Kenyon Martin's face and Lamar Odom found Luke Walton in the right corner for a wide-open 3-pointer to give Los Angeles the lead for good at 100-96 with 2:36 left.

"We were fortunate to execute better down the stretch than they did," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "It's good to be through that series. Kobe was hurting us in the third quarter but he is a great player at the end of the game."

Marcus Camby's rare 3-pointer from the left corner cut the Nuggets' deficit to 103-101 with 33 seconds remaining. But Odom hit Gasol for an easy jam and Bryant sank two from the line to seal the win.

Denver became the first 50-win club to be swept out of the first round of the postseason in league history.

"We made a big step forward this year but the Western conference is amazing," Denver coach George Karl said. "In my basketball life, I haven't seen anything like it. This is really disappointing. Were a top 10 team in the league but, unfortunately, there are six or seven (teams) that are better in our conference. We need to find a way to get to the next level."

"It was a hard fought game. You have to take your hat off to how the Lakers play," Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony, who had 21 points and 11 rebounds. "I thought we gave a great effort out there. The results didn't end up the way we wanted them to end up, but we left it out there on the court. Overall, I think we had a great season. Losing four in a row is tough, it's kind of hard to take in."

Los Angeles was in complete control in the opening half, shooting 49 percent (24-of-49) from the field to hold a 64-54 advantage into the locker room.

Gasol and Bryant carried the load through the first two quarters for the Lakers, posting 33 points and 12 boards combined.

The Nuggets fired back in the third, outscoring the Lakers, 23-15, to draw within 79-77 heading into the decisive fourth period.

Allen Iverson scored 22 points and Camby grabbed 17 rebounds for Denver, which could see several roster changes during the offseason.

"We just got swept by them. That about says it all," Iverson said. "I love everything about playing here. I love the team and fans and everything here. I've never been swept before in my career. It is a really bad feeling. The guys gave it all they had, and you can't ask for anything more than that.

"We just got beat by a better team. We have to hold ourselves accountable, starting with Myself and Melo. We get all the credit when we are playing well so you have to take some criticism."