The Lakers played sloppy, shot the ball poorly, Pau Gasol hurt his knee, and they lost the services of Andrew Bynum late. All of that added up to a disappointing 95-90 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center.
Kobe Bryant scored 28 points, but shot just 10-27 from the floor, and was clearly bothered by the Nuggets’ aggressive defense against him, and the lack of foul calls.
His frustration boiled over and he picked up his 13th technical foul in the second quarter after slamming the court with his hand after a missed shot. He also missed several shots in the fourth quarter, including a key baseline jumper in the final moments with the game still on the line.
The Lakers also got a huge scare when Gasol went down clutching his knee after taking a hard foul on a made basket in the third quarter. He briefly went to the locker room, but did return to finish the game. Team officials have said he will have a precautionary MRI on Monday. Gasol finished the game with 16 points and 12 rebounds, but clearly didn’t have the same impact on the game after injuring his knee.
Bynum also left the game Sunday with seven minutes left after tweaking his knee on a collision with Lamar Odom. He appeared to grab his knee on the bench, but said after the game he was fine and expects to play on Tuesday against Utah. He scored eight points and grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds.
The Lakers led 47-40 at halftime in a very uneven game, with neither team shooting the ball well. The second half was a grind, the Lakers held the lead late in the third until Denver went on a run, and briefly grabbed the advantage. The score was tied at 69 at the end of the quarter.
The Lakers opened up a 75-69 lead early in the fourth, but the Nuggets took over from there. Point guard Raymond Felton scored all 16 of his points in the second half, including several key buckets down the stretch to keep Denver ahead.
With Denver up 91-83, the Lakers scored four straight and had the ball with under a minute left, but Bryant missed a tough baseline shot. The Nuggets split two free throws to go up 92-87. Odom, who had 17 points and seven rebounds off the bench, hit a three-pointer with 16 seconds left to bring the Lakers to within two. After Wilson Chandler made his first free throw, he missed the second, and Kenyon Martin forced Odom under the basket to grab the putback, which effectively closed the door on the Lakers’ winning streak.
For the game the Lakers shot just 42.9% (36-84) from the floor and 4-18 (22.2%) from beyond the arc. They outrebounded Denver 45-44, but were undone by the 20 turnovers they committed. The Nuggets shot just 43.9% (36-82) from the field themselves, and turned the ball over 17 times as well.
Danilo Gallanari led the Nuggets with 22 points and seven rebounds. Kenyon Martin had 18 points and eight rebounds, and Nene scored 12 to go along with seven boards.
The loss dropped the Lakers 2.5 behind the Spurs for first in the Western Conference with six games left. The Lakers are now 17-2 since the All-Star break.
The champs’ next game is Tuesday night at Staples Center against the Utah Jazz, who were eliminated from the playoff race on Friday by the Lakers. After Tuesday’s game, the Lakers go on the road at Golden St. on Wednesday, and then Portland on Friday.