Nuggets put Lakers on the beaten track, 119-108


DENVER — Sorry, Lakers fans. Not yet.

A modest three-game Lakers winning streak was strewn across the court by the Denver Nuggets, who looked like the varsity scrimmaging against the JVs for most of a breezy 119-108 victory Monday night at the Pepsi Center.

The Lakers were turnstiles on defense, the Nuggets amassing — stop and sit for a sec — 78 points in the paint.

Fastbreak points? Please. The Lakers were annihilated, 33-3.

There was cheering for a fast-food taco promotion, but not the type Lakers fans would like. Denver fans exploded with joy when the Nuggets hit the celebratory standard, 110 points. Then there was more bliss when their costumed mascot, Rocky, hit a halfcourt shot with his back to the basket during a timeout late in the game.

Yes, the Nuggets (36-22) were better even during timeouts, as usual on their home court, where they are now 24-3.

Kobe Bryant was strong again, batting away a one-for-seven start to finish with 29 points on 12-for-23 shooting, but even his night had a huge asterisk.

He was hit with his 14th technical foul this season while walking off the court at the end of the first half. Bryant can accrue only one more technical before the regular season ends. If he gets two more, it means a one-game suspension.

“He has to control that,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said. “We can’t afford to lose him for a game. Not like that.”

Bryant said he would control himself after picking up a 13th technical foul Sunday against Dallas. His pledge lasted a little more than 24 hours, though he claimed this one should be rescinded, even adding that he spoke to referee Joe Crawford about it before the third quarter began.

“Joe didn’t know what was going on. Me and a ref were having just a simple conversation and he kind of jumped the gun,” said Bryant, whose technical fouls would reset to zero in the playoffs, as if that should even be a consideration at this point.

So the Lakers’ lonely eyes turn toward the NBA office, never a predictable proposition, as they failed in their attempt to reach .500 for the first time since New Year’s Day.

Meanwhile, those 78 points in the paint.

“That’s a lot, lot, lot,” D’Antoni said. “A lot of that came from fastbreaks and we couldn’t catch them. We just couldn’t catch them.”

Said Bryant: “That team was like a track team. . . . The speed got us.”

The Nuggets somehow converted 15 of 16 fastbreak opportunities. The Lakers, give ‘em credit, converted one of one.

The Lakers (28-30) are now 2-12 against the top five teams in the Western Conference. They’re also 10-19 on the road, a bad omen for a team with 10 of its 15 games away from Staples Center next month.

Furthermore, they are 4-7 in the second game of back-to-back situations. They have five more back-to-backs left. Houston and Utah can exhale. Again.

The Lakers trail the Rockets by three games for the No. 8 playoff spot and are 31/2 behind the Jazz.

Wilson Chandler had a team-high 23 points in place of Nuggets scoring leader Danilo Gallinari, who didn’t play because of a thigh bruise.

He wasn’t missed, on a night when the Nuggets had 10 dunks and 12 layups or tip-ins in the first half on the way to a 67-54 lead.

Dwight Howard had his moments on offense (15 points, six-for-eight shooting) and defense (14 rebounds, four blocked shots).

If only he hadn’t appeared to be throwing rocks at the backboard while shooting free throws (three for 14, 21%).

Steve Nash had 16 points and five assists but also six turnovers.

Bryant was booed after going down with what looked like a minor hip injury. He wasn’t surprised by Nuggets fans’ reaction.

“Not after dominating them year after year in the postseason,” he quipped.

But the Nuggets had the final say Monday.

On yet another converted fastbreak, the arena announcer took great delight in bellowing out, “5,280 feet. . . . Let’s go!”

And go they did. The Lakers never really had a chance.