One-game hiccup or season-long problem?
For all the strengths the Lakers have, for all their All-Stars and championship rings, a tiny concept tugged at their ankles and nipped at their kneecaps Thursday in Denver.
Things seemed just fine for them after Shannon Brown's 16-footer meant a 95-85 lead over Denver with 11:13 to play.
"I kind of thought it was over at that point," said Lakers forward Ron Artest, who was still on the court.
The Lakers were powerless to stop it.
Joining Artest on the court were Brown, Steve Blake, Pau Gasol and Matt Barnes. After the Nuggets closed within 95-94 on a flurry of driving layups, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson substituted Kobe Bryant for Artest, but it was too late.
A comfortable lead dissipated with surprising quickness, the crowd was suddenly frenzied, and the Lakers' first loss would soon become official.
"It's happened one time, small ball," Artest said. "We'll see what happens next time, if it's going to be a major problem or not."
The Nuggets needed only 3 minutes 34 seconds to turn a 10-point deficit into a 101-95 lead.
"Their backcourt was a little stagnant and nobody was moving too much," said Lawson, in his second year out of North Carolina. "I wanted to speed up the game and negate their height."
He definitely succeeded. It's up to the Lakers to prevent it from happening again.
The Lakers hoisted some hurried, if not bizarre, shots while trying to come back from their fourth-quarter deficit.
With 15 seconds left on the shot clock, Bryant missed a pull-up three-point attempt with 1:02 to play and the Lakers trailing, 114-110. Then Artest found nobody open after a brief survey of the court and missed an ill-conceived three-pointer from the corner with 27.9 seconds left and the Lakers still down four.
"There was plenty of time to take that [lead] down another notch and we cranked up a couple threes," a cranky Jackson said. "Instead of doing some execution, we settle for three-point shots and I was not happy with that."
One player who could not be blamed for the fourth-quarter meltdown was Lamar Odom. He didn't even play in it.
Odom had his worst game of the season, scoring three points on one-for-six shooting. He was benched in the fourth because Jackson said Brown (19 points) was too hot to take out, keeping the Lakers in a smaller lineup.
Odom was averaging 15.8 points and shooting 62.1% coming into the game.
The Lakers did not practice Friday, their first full day off in almost two weeks. They had played eight games in 14 nights, a fairly brisk pace.
They resume practice Saturday and play host to Phoenix on Sunday before beginning a three-game trip to Milwaukee, Detroit and Minnesota.