LOS ANGELES (AP) – Although the Los Angeles Lakers have inspired plenty of strong emotions during their title-laden history, the Denver Nuggets felt something that’s been rare in recent decades.
Ty Lawson had 21 points and 10 assists, Danilo Gallinari scored 20 points and hit a big 3-pointer with 13.8 seconds left, and the Nuggets beat the struggling Lakers 112-105 Sunday night for their fifth win in seven games.
JaVale McGee scored 17 points for the Nuggets, who showed no signs of weariness after a home win over Utah one night earlier. Despite two last-minute 3-pointers by Kobe Bryant, Denver calmly maintained a lead throughout the fourth quarter of its second win in 12 days over the star-studded Lakers, who aren’t exactly putting fear or fury into their opponents.
“They’re struggling,” Denver coach George Karl said. “It’s a great win for us, but I’m not going to get overinflated.”
Staples Center was mostly silent while Los Angeles dropped to 15-18 with another mediocre performance featuring 18 turnovers, intermittent defense and little structured offense down the stretch. Bryant scored 29 points and Dwight Howard had 14 points and a career high-tying 26 rebounds for the Lakers, who have lost three straight and four of five.
“(We’re) a good team, and it’s getting better,” Karl said. “I just don’t want to get too crazy with it.”
Even when the Lakers did things right, they still went wrong. Bryant’s 3-pointer with 36 seconds left cut Denver’s lead to 105-102, and Howard emphatically blocked Andre Miller‘s layup attempt on the Nuggets’ next possession – but the ball went straight to Gallinari, who immediately drained a 3-pointer with 13.8 seconds left.
Again, the Nuggets were almost apologetic for the pivotal play in just their fifth road win over the Lakers in 26 meetings.
“It was a lucky bounce,” Gallinari said. “Dwight blocked the shot, and the ball came back to me, and Metta World Peace was right there, ready to block my shot. You don’t have a lot of time to think, especially in that situation, so I had to release it very quick.”
The Nuggets hung on to their lead with big late baskets from Miller and Lawson, whose layup put Denver ahead by eight points with 1:18 to play. After Gallinari’s big shot, Bryant hit another 3-pointer with 11.2 seconds left, but Miller hit two free throws before Bryant missed another desperate 3-point try.
The Lakers’ locker room was as silent as their arena after their eighth home loss of the still-young season.
“I think because of our record, the pressure is building, but so be it,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We have to overcome it, and we can. We just can’t let teams start out with 34 points in the first quarter. It just can’t happen. We’re starting to dig out every game, and somehow we have to try to figure out why that’s happening.”
Howard had an impressive game on the boards despite an injured right shoulder, matching his career high in rebounds in the final minutes. But he took just seven shots – making all of them except for a 3-point attempt – and went 2 for 6 on the free-throw line.
After the game, the Lakers said Howard aggravated his shoulder injury. He will have an MRI exam on Monday before the Lakers leave for a quick two-game trip to Texas, and Howard didn’t know whether he’ll play Tuesday at Houston.
“Everything is against us right now, but we have to keep our heads and stay together,” Howard said. “It is tough out there, because everybody expects us to win, but we have to stick together.”
Andre Iguodala had 15 points, seven assists and six rebounds for the Nuggets, and Miller finished with 12 points and 10 assists.
“I think teams are still getting up to play them,” Iguodala said. “I mean, every time we play the Lakers, I want to play well and we want to play well. You’ve just got to go play with confidence and be mentally ready.”
When Gasol had to leave the game with a bloody nose, Denver coach George Karl chose seldom-used Earl Clark off the Lakers’ bench to shoot Gasol’s free throws with 1:05 to play. Clark coolly made both shots to trim the Nuggets’ lead to 105-99, kick-starting the Lakers’ late comeback attempt.
Antawn Jamison, who scored 33 points against the Nuggets in their previous visit to Staples Center on Nov. 20, got just four minutes of playing time, scoring two points.
NOTES: Lakers G Chris Duhon returned after missing the past two games with back spasms. F Jordan Hill also played with a sprained right ankle. … Denver F Kenneth Faried had six points and six rebounds while playing in back-to-back games despite an illness that caused him to miss Saturday’s shootaround. … Nash is five assists shy of the 10,000th of his career. The two-time MVP had double-digit assists for the fourth straight game. … Howard had his third 20-rebound game of the season. He began the day as the NBA’s third-leading rebounder this season.
By GREG BEACHAM, AP Sports Writer
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