Kobe Bryant has gotten more notice lately for his play on the court than his troubling situation outside of basketball.
Now the focus will turn back to his off-court predicament.
The last time the Lakers visited Denver was on Jan. 7 and in front of a Nuggets-record crowd of 19,739. Bryant was booed unmercifully as he shot just 8-of-23 for 27 points and had five turnovers in a 113-91 loss.
It was Bryant’s first game in Colorado since he was accused of sexual assault last summer.
“I’ve been booed before,” he said after the loss. “I don’t listen to that. I just go out there and play basketball.”
The 6-foot-6 guard hopes to let his play do the talking after averaging 33.5 points in four games since the All-Star break. He had 40 on 15-of-25 shooting from the field in a 104-92 win over Phoenix on Sunday.
“I’ve known him for a while,” Shaquille O’Neal said of Bryant. “He likes to pick his play up the second half, and he likes to be real sharp before he goes into the playoffs. He’s been playing real aggressive.”
O’Neal, who missed the last game at Denver due to injury, has also played very well since the break. After finishing with 24 points and 11 rebounds to earn All-Star game MVP honors, O’Neal is averaging 23.5 points on 67 percent shooting, 11.3 rebounds and 2.75 blocks over the last four games.
“We’re putting more energy behind it,” Bryant said. “Our effort has increased. Defensively, we’re making more stops. Offensively, we’re executing better.”
The Lakers have won five in a row, seemingly regaining their top form just in time for a matchup with Pacific Division-leading Sacramento at Staples Center on Thursday.
First, Los Angeles must face a Nuggets team looking to avoid a season-high fourth straight loss.
Denver is coming off an 0-3 road trip, dropping games to Orlando, Miami and Memphis following a three-game win streak.
Carmelo Anthony scored 26 points and Voshon Lenard added 21 on Monday as the Nuggets lost 109-106 to the Grizzlies. Denver took a four-point lead with 1:22 left, but failed to score again in a matchup of teams fighting for position at the bottom of the Western Conference playoff standings.
“This felt like a playoff game,” Anthony said. “Like Game 1 of a seven-game series.”
In the closing minutes, Denver sorely missed the inside presence of Marcus Camby, who had 15 points and 18 rebounds before fouling out with 3:34 remaining.
“It was definitely intense,” Camby said. “I’m physically drained. … It was very physical.”
Denver has won four in a row at home and is 21-8 at the Pepsi Center.
STANDINGS (through Feb. 23): Lakers - 2nd place, 5 GB, Pacific Division. Nuggets - 6th place, 9 GB, Midwest Division.
TEAM LEADERS: Lakers - Bryant, 22.7 ppg; O’Neal, 11 rpg; Payton, 5.9 apg. Nuggets - Anthony, 19.8 ppg; Camby, 10.4 rpg; Miller, 6.3 apg.
SEASON SERIES: Lakers, 2-1.
LAST MEETING: Jan. 14; Lakers, 97-71. At Los Angeles, Medvedenko had 22 points and Payton added 21 as the injury-depleted Lakers handed the Nuggets their most lopsided loss of the season.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Lakers - 13-15 on the road; Nuggets - 21-8 at home.