Lakers have no defense for their first loss
Reporting from Denver — Kobe Bryant’s shot abandoned him. Pau Gasol no longer scored with ease.
Shannon Brown, of all people, tried to keep the Lakers among the undefeated, but it all dissolved in front of an overjoyed Pepsi Center crowd, the Denver Nuggets dropping the Lakers on Thursday, 118-112.
The Lakers surrendered 33 points in the fourth quarter, their defense sputtering badly, matched in ineffectiveness only by Bryant’s outside touch.
Bryant had 34 points but made only 11 of 32 shots. Gasol wasn’t much better: 17 points on six-for-17 shooting as New Orleans (7-0) became the NBA’s only undefeated team.
“Just another game in November,” Bryant said, not taking the loss all that hard.
The Lakers (8-1) blew a chance at the second-best start in franchise history, though it could almost be predicted based on their recent play.
They were sloppy against Toronto, stellar against Portland, but again apathetic in a slim victory against Minnesota. It all seemed to catch up to them Thursday.
Brown had 19 points and Ron Artest had 18, but nobody could check Carmelo Anthony, who had 32 points and 13 rebounds for the Nuggets (5-4).
Bryant missed 11 of 15 shots in the first half and showed only a brief spark near the midpoint of the third quarter, hitting back-to-back three-pointers to give the Lakers an 85-74 lead with 4:32 left in the quarter.
But the Lakers could only imagine how much longer they could have been undefeated had they won on Denver. They have a home game Sunday against Phoenix (3-4) and a three-game trip next week at Milwaukee (4-5), Detroit (2-6) and Minnesota (2-7).
Artest seemed to know something was amiss before the game. He felt the Lakers hadn’t made an impression despite their perfect record coming into Thursday.
“It’s not like we’ve played the top eight teams in the league. And this is only our third away game,” he said. “There’s nothing to really be that excited about.”
The Lakers had some highlight moments in the first half, punctuated by Brown’s double-clutch dunk as J.R. Smith tried to block his shot on a breakaway.
But the Nuggets unfurled a small lineup that created chaos on the court, turning a 93-85 deficit through three quarters into a 101-95 lead just a handful of minutes into the fourth.
It was a mostly unheralded five that did the job for Denver: Ty Lawson, Gary Forbes, Smith, Arron Afflalo and Al Harrington.
The Lakers’ reserves, so much a part of their early success this season, were outdueled badly.
Lawson had 17 points, Smith had 13 and Forbes added six.
It’s early, but Boston (7-2) isn’t far behind the Lakers, though Miami (5-4) is losing traction. In fact, for what’s it’s worth, a handful of Lakers players quietly watched the Heat get dismantled by the Celtics on a small screen in the corner of the locker room before their own game.
No matter what they might say, they’re always keeping an eye on the Eastern Conference.
As of Thursday, they no longer have to worry about earning the best beginning in franchise history. The 11-0 start of the 1997-98 team withstood another year.