LOS ANGELES (AP) – By the time Dwight Howard stepped back and oh-so-coolly hit just the second 3-pointer of his entire career in the closing seconds, it didn’t even seem weird to the Los Angeles Lakers.
With so many unlikely numbers in improbable places on that bulging scoresheet, what was one last long-distance shot for a team that finally discovered its elusive rhythm?
Antawn Jamison scored 33 points while leading an outstanding game by the Lakers’ reserves, and Howard had 28 points and 20 rebounds before hitting Los Angeles’ 17th 3-pointer to close a 122-103 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.
Jodie Meeks scored 21 points on a career high-tying seven 3-pointers for the Lakers, who improved to 3-3 under Mike D’Antoni while playing at the furious tempo favored by their new coach.
After managing just 77 points against Indiana three nights earlier in their third loss in four games, the Lakers’ dazzling offensive display suggested D’Antoni is making progress after all.
“It’s the way we want to play,” D’Antoni said. “We’ve got a lot of talent out there, and it’s got to mesh, and the ball has got to move. … So many guys had good games. I just thought the ball was moving better – just a lot of good things happening.”
Kobe Bryant had 14 points and eight assists for the Lakers, who moved the ball to the tune of 33 assists while making 54 percent of their shots. They also tied the club record for 3-pointers in a regulation game, getting five from Jamison in the first 30-point game by a Lakers reserve since Shaquille O’Neal did it in 1998.
Jamison, the high-scoring veteran who signed with Los Angeles for a shot at a title, found the shooting stroke he has lacked for much of the season so far, going 13 for 19 and grabbing 12 rebounds while taking more shots than Bryant or Howard.
“Give me some minutes, and I can make something happen,” Jamison said. “I was just able to feed off those guys looking for me. Once I do that, I get into a rhythm, and from there, they don’t know what to do.”
The Lakers’ bench has been unimpressive for two straight seasons, but Jamison and Meeks shot exceptionally well against Denver, while Chris Duhon had a strong playmaking game with eight assists and five points.
After the Lakers’ reserves managed just five points in that ugly loss to the Pacers, they produced 61 points against Denver.
Meeks and Jamison talked before the game about their meager production this season, noting neither had played a particularly strong game at home.
“I had some big games in college, but not too many games where I only missed two shots,” said Meeks, who went 7 for 9 overall and missed just one of his eight 3-point attempts. “I think everybody is more confident now. We’re at .500, so we’ve got to get over .500 and keep rolling.”
“After we saw what happened to them in that Indiana game, as coaches, we said: `Wow, now we’ve got to play them after they played so poorly against Indiana,’” Denver coach George Karl said. “I thought we fought up to a degree, but when they got it back up to 20, our gas tank was pretty empty.”
Los Angeles led 71-57 at halftime, making 60 percent of its shots in an impressive stretch of offensive basketball.
Howard controlled the first quarter with 16 points and five rebounds, while Meeks put on a shooting clinic in the second quarter, draining his first five 3-point attempts to match his highest-scoring game in his first season with Los Angeles.
“You know they’re an up-tempo team, so we had to come out with energy, but we just didn’t match their energy,” said Andre Miller, who had 10 points. “Their bench had a good game and did what they were supposed to do. They hit a lot of 3-pointers and just took off from there.”
Jamison and Meeks led a strong start to the fourth quarter while three Lakers starters rested. Jamison hit the Lakers’ 16th 3-pointer with 6:51 to play, and the Lakers rolled to the win capped by Howard’s improbable 3.
“He shoots as many 3′s after practice as a lot of us, and he’s confident,” Jamison said. “You know Dwight. He’s going to take it.”
The clubs met for the first time since the Lakers eliminated Denver in the first round of last season’s playoffs despite a lively effort by the Nuggets, who fought off elimination twice before Los Angeles won a thrilling Game 7 at home.
NOTES: Jamison and Meeks were the first Lakers reserves to score 20 points apiece since Bryant and Nick Van Exel did it in April 1998. … The Lakers finish their final multigame homestand before Christmas against Orlando on Sunday night. Los Angeles will have played 12 of its first 17 games at Staples Center, plowing through more than a quarter of their entire home schedule in the season’s opening five weeks, before playing nine of its next 12 on the road. … Mark Wahlberg, Jeremy Piven and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea and Chad Smith attended the game.
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