The Denver Nuggets nearly felt their second migraine of the season on Friday.
When these Western Conference foes meet at the Pepsi Center on Saturday night, Bryant and what could be the most balanced team of his career face a Nuggets squad looking forward to the return of high-scoring Carmelo Anthony.
As expected, Bryant leads the Lakers (2-0) with 19.5 points per game - but with Pau Gasol, Jordan Farmar, Trevor Ariza, Derek Fisher and Andrew Bynum also scoring in double figures, the defending Western Conference champions have, somewhat unexpectedly, coasted past Portland and the Los Angeles Clippers by an average of 29 points.
“I’m surprised (by the scoring margin),” Bryant said following Tuesday’s 96-76 opening-night victory over the Trail Blazers.
After Wednesday’s 117-79 dismantling of the Clippers, so was his Hall of Fame coach.
“We have to say it’s a surprise, (but) our team is playing at a high level,” Phil Jackson said. “Our next game is on the road (at Denver), so it’s a team that has a lot of animosity I’m sure from last year’s playoffs. We’ll see how we do when we go to their place.”
If last season is any indication, the Lakers will be fine. They went 7-0 against the Nuggets in 2007-08, including three wins in Denver. Los Angeles defeated the host Nuggets 111-107 on Dec. 5, 2007, despite 51 points from Allen Iverson, then won Games 3 and 4 in Denver as it swept the first-round playoff series.
On Thursday, the Lakers took a step toward ensuring future success by signing Bynum to a four-year, $57.4 million deal.
“This has been a fantastic week for me so far: turning 21 (on Monday), winning our first two games of the season, and now getting this new contract signed,” Bynum said. “This gives me and my family financial security, and more importantly, cements my future with the Lakers, which in my opinion is the best organization in all of professional sports. I couldn’t be happier.”
Denver will be thrilled to get Anthony - and his 25.7 points and 7.4 rebounds from 2007-08 - back in the lineup after a two-game suspension due to an offseason DUI arrest.
The Nuggets needed Anthony’s scoring in their 98-94 loss at Utah on Wednesday, and trailing 55-37 at the half on Friday against the Clippers, they could have used his offensive punch. But Iverson rallied Denver (1-1) with nine points in the final 3:35 of overtime as the Nuggets pulled out a 113-103 win and recorded the second-largest halftime comeback in team history.
“I’ve been struggling, as far as my offensive rhythm, and I was getting really frustrated,” said Iverson, who finished with 25 and has scored a team-high 43 in Anthony’s absence. “But I was trying not to be so tough on myself, being that I didn’t get a chance to play as much as I wanted to in the preseason. I didn’t have any time to waste with two games on the road. Fortunately, my rhythm came back at the right time.”
Prior to last season, the Nuggets had won five of the previous six regular-season matchups with the Lakers in Denver. Bryant has a career 32-11 regular-season record against the Nuggets, including 13-9 in Denver.