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Lakers big men could be key to Game 2 tonight

ON THE LAKERS

Kobe Bryant walked away after the final play, his head down, lost among the silence of a quiet, deflated Staples Center.

In between the fouls and free throws was another game that crackled with intensity but finished with a lone overriding concept -- the Denver Nuggets are for real.

The late-game hero of Game 1, Trevor Ariza, lost the ball on a late play in Game 2, and Derek Fisher missed everything on a last-second three-point attempt Thursday as the Lakers fell to Denver, 106-103, tying the Western Conference finals at 1-1.

Games 3 and 4 are in Denver, where the Nuggets haven’t lost since March 9, winning 16 consecutive games at Pepsi Center.

The Nuggets were 2-14 in playoff games against the Lakers before Thursday, but that changed amid a late-game flurry that left the home crowd stunned.

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The Lakers were too, in case their eerily quiet locker room didn’t prove the point.

“They have home-court advantage now,” Bryant said, summing up just about everything.

The Lakers began to crack in the second quarter, turning another large lead (14 points at one time, 13 with 2:40 to play) into a slim 55-54 halftime edge.

They also had their share of late-game gaffes, starting with something as easy as free throws.

Lamar Odom gave the Lakers a 92-91 lead on two free throws with 7:13 left, but then Shannon Brown made one of two, Pau Gasol missed two from the foul line and Trevor Ariza made one of two.

In a game with 56 fouls and 72 free-throw attempts, those late misses will be the ones that haunt the Lakers.

“It was a free-throw shooting contest and we caved first, simple as that,” Bryant said.

There were other issues.

The Lakers trailed, 103-101, when Bryant had the ball poked away by Nene after coming around a Gasol screen. Gasol won a jump ball after tying up Chauncey Billups with 18.6 seconds left, but it got ugly from there for Lakers fans.

Ariza secured Gasol’s tip but fell after pressure from Carmelo Anthony and coughed up the ball to Nene.

“I lost the ball. That’s it,” Ariza said. “I didn’t slip. I just lost the ball.”

The Lakers still had one last chance, down by three when Luke Walton inbounded the ball from the right side with 4.3 seconds left. But Fisher’s three-point attempt from the right corner was well short.

Game over.

“They came here to do what they needed to do,” said Bryant, who had 32 points on 10-for-20 shooting. “Now it’s time to go to Denver, see if we can do the same.”

Ariza had 20 points and Gasol had 17 points to go with 17 rebounds, but Andrew Bynum had nine quiet points in only 18 minutes (he didn’t play in the fourth quarter) and Fisher had three points on one-for-nine shooting.

The Lakers led by 14 in the second quarter, on their way to an apparent 2-0 series lead, but, well, you’ve seen this before in the playoffs.

The Nuggets closed quickly, Billups scoring on a last-second shot to bring them to within one at the half.

“It was frustrating, but this is what they do,” Bryant said. “Denver is an explosive team. They can make up points very, very quickly.”

Anthony had 34 points despite a slow start in which he missed five of his first six shots and had two points in the first quarter. Billups had 27 points and made 13 of 16 free-throw attempts.

The Lakers went a league-best 29-12 on the road during the regular season, but there will be altitude and attitude in Denver.

The Nuggets haven’t been beaten there since a 97-95 loss to Houston more than 10 weeks ago.

“We might as well not go, then, if that’s the case,” Fisher said sarcastically. “This is for an opportunity to win an NBA championship. We’re going to play to win on Saturday night.”

Or, as Bryant said, “We’re not the best road team in the NBA for no reason.”

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

By the numbers

73 - Points for Carmelo Anthony in first two games of the series.

72 - Kobe Bryant’s points in the series.

24 - Years since the Nuggets last beat the Lakers in a playoff game.

11 - Consecutive playoff victories by the Lakers over the Nuggets before Game 2.

14 - Lakers’ biggest lead in Game 2.

12-0 - Denver’s scoring run near the end of the first half.

17 - Consecutive free throws made by the Nuggets before Chauncey Billups missed with four seconds left.

6-0 - Nuggets’ home record in playoffs.

2-3 - Lakers’ road record in playoffs.

34.4 - Derek Fisher’s shooting percentage in playoffs.


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