Bryant leads Lakers past NuggetsApr 10, 2009 - 6:56 AM LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Pau Gasol was impressed with Andrew Bynum's comeback. A decrease in his own minutes to accommodate his fellow 7-footer wasn't too shabby, either.
Kobe Bryant scored 33 points, Gasol added 27 points and 19 rebounds and the Los Angeles Lakers welcomed back Bynum in a 116-102 win over the Denver Nuggets on Thursday night.
The win was the fifth straight for the Lakers (63-16) and tied them with the idle Cleveland Cavaliers (63-15) for the league lead.
Bynum, playing in his first game since tearing the medial collateral ligament in his right knee on January 31, had 16 points and seven rebounds in 21 minutes.
Wearing a black brace on the knee, Bynum was greeted with cheers when his name was announced in the starting lineup. Another loud eruption came when the Lakers' announcer asked fans to welcome back the center.
"It was nice. It was almost like he never went out. It was a great performance for a comeback game after two months and something out. It just shows that he's been working hard," Gasol said.
And the perks for him?
"We have two 7-footers out there that can rebound. I was able to take advantage that he was a little off on his rhythm and I was able to go after the ball because he attracted two defenders. It was positive for me because it opened up my lane and allowed me to go after rebounds."
Gasol's 19 boards were nearly half of the Lakers' total (51).
And he did that with less minutes.
"It balances out Pau's minutes a lot, just even five minutes off his minute total is really important. That helps us a lot," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
So how did Bynum feel?
He rated himself a B, B-plus and said it felt good to get a game under his belt.
"It feels great to be back and be playing man, seriously. My teammates have been waiting. They fed me the ball a little bit and got me really comfortable out there."
Carmelo Anthony had 23 points to lead the Nuggets, who lost for the first time in nine games and failed to secure the second seed in the Western Conference. J.R. Smith had 19 points, while Chauncey Billups and Nene each added 17.
The Nuggets got within six with 8:12 remaining before Bryant turned it on. He scored six straight, including a bank shot from the left side of the key that didn't look like it had a chance, to give the Lakers a 107-93 lead.
"We hung in the game. I think they feel there was an energy to that team tonight that they haven't had in the last couple of weeks," Denver coach George Karl said.
"We probably didn't play well enough to win."
One of the story lines coming into the game focused on the Nuggets and their improved defense, but Los Angeles easily topped 100 points with three starters in double digits.
And the Lakers put additional pressure on the Nuggets' guards, causing fits for their rhythm on offense.
"They're a great defensive team and they got us frustrated a little bit. They just kept executing on offense like they always do," Smith said.
Bynum, who started in place of Lamar Odom, didn't shy away from contact and bumped up against Denver's big men throughout. It took him a while to get comfortable in his first start, though, and he was 0-for-2 in the first quarter and had two turnovers.
He scored nine points in the third quarter, showing flashes of his old self, and wound up 7-of-11 from the field.
It was Bryant and Gasol who put the Lakers ahead in the third, when the two launched Los Angeles on a 16-5 run with less than six minutes remaining in the quarter.
Shannon Brown hit a wide-open 3-pointer to start it and Gasol and Bryant combined to add 11 points in the spurt. Bryant's three with 1:39 remaining gave the Lakers a 13-point lead.
While most of the focus was on Bynum's return, it was Gasol who got the Lakers going. He was one rebound shy of a double-double by the end of the first quarter and had six points as part of an 8-0 run that gave Los Angeles a 32-21 lead.
Jackson turned the game over to his bench in the second quarter, but subbed his starters back in at the 5:50 mark in an attempt to slow the Nuggets.
They provided a spark for a few minutes before Denver went on a 12-4 run behind a pair of threes from Smith, one a buzzer-beater that tied the game at 56-56 going into halftime.
LA LAKERS 116 FINAL
Apr 10 1:27 AM
LA LAKERS 88 END, 3RD QTR
Apr 10 12:51 AM
LA LAKERS 56 HALFTIME
Apr 9 11:57 PM
LA LAKERS 33 END, 1ST QTR
Apr 9 11:21 PM
- blazenomist From Portland, OR, aka 'Mayberry on Mushrooms'.
I'd like to see the Nuggets soften up LA with a fierce but unsuccessful effort. Then we can whack the Lakers up here in Portland and maybe even snatch the # 2 seed from Denver as the Blazers play them. It's gettin' hot out West.
Nuggets vs. LakersApr 9 7:46 PM
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