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Nuggets are learning, and it’s a hard lesson for Lakers

The Denver Nuggets are evolving, and on Thursday night the Lakers suffered the consequences.

The Nuggets folded late in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals Tuesday night, unable to protect a 13-point lead early in the game or a six-point lead in the fourth quarter.

But in Game 2, when so many expected the Nuggets to falter again -- first after falling into an early 14-point hole, and again after blowing a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter -- Denver remained steady.

By staying the course and delivering a victory at Staples Center, the Nuggets evened the best-of-seven series, 1-1, and took home-court advantage from the Lakers.

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“Obviously, when you don’t have home-court advantage, you just want to try to steal it however you can,” Nuggets guard Chauncey Billups said. ". . . We had a great opportunity in Game 1 and couldn’t close out. Game 2, we learned from our mistakes and closed out.”

The Nuggets have been playing at a high level at Denver’s Pepsi Center, where Game 3 will be played tonight and Game 4 on Monday. They have won 16 consecutive home games, six in the playoffs, since March 9. They also beat the Lakers there, 90-79, on Feb. 27.

Denver looked more comfortable fighting from behind in Game 2 than it did with leads in Game 1.

“A year ago, we wouldn’t have won that basketball game,” said Carmelo Anthony, who is averaging 36.5 points and 7.5 rebounds in the series. “We get down 10, 12 points early, we’re not winning that basketball game. But that just goes to show how tough of a team we are.”

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What has changed?

“I think it’s just guys growing up, guys wanting it a little more this season, or now. Guys knowing what’s at stake,” Anthony said. “And then, we know we got embarrassed last year. They swept us [4-0 in the first round] last year. Of course that’s in the back of our minds.”

The Nuggets watched film at their Marina del Rey hotel Friday instead of traveling to Denver after the game. They have injuries to Anthony (left ankle), Kenyon Martin (fractured left ring finger) and J.R. Smith (strained right calf).

Asked whether the Nuggets were more confident having defeated the Lakers, Anthony brushed aside such talk.

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“We were always confident. I don’t like hearing that, how confident we are right now,” he said. “But we were always confident coming into this series.

“We let one slip away. They won the game. We came back and were mentally tough and won Game 2.”

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broderick.turner@latimes.com

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