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Loss to Nuggets leaves Lakers' top unit 0-4

The SportsXchange

LOS ANGELES -- They were brought in to lift the Lakers to yet another title, to add even more glitz and glamour to a star-studded town that is used to championships and winning streaks and Showtime.

Dwight Howard and Steve Nash are finding out that all those Los Angeles lights can cause quite the glare.

The Lakers' loaded starting lineup fell to 0-4 after the visiting Denver Nuggets dealt Los Angeles a 112-105 loss Sunday night at Staples Center.

Though Lakers starters Howard, Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace all scored in double figures, the group remains winless. While Nash missed most of the early part of the season with a leg fracture and only recently came back, things have not looked much better for the team since his return.

"It's a combo of everything," Nash said. "There are moments we can play smarter, where we can play better defensively ... when you add it all up, we're struggling. At different times, we're finding different ways to lose the game. At times I think we are getting better, but we have nothing to show for it."

Certainly not Sunday night, when the Nuggets used a big third quarter to regain control.

After Los Angeles outscored Denver 34-26 in the second quarter to tie the game at the half, 60-60, the Nuggets fell behind by four midway through the third quarter. Denver then held Los Angeles to just five points in the final six minutes of the third, seizing a six-point lead going into the fourth quarter.

Though the Lakers (15-18) cut the deficit to as few as three points, the Nuggets took advantage of late turnovers to send Los Angeles to its third straight loss.

After Bryant hit a 3-pointer with 36 seconds left, Denver forward Danilo Gallinari scooped up a rebound after a Howard blocked shot and hit a back-breaking 3-pointer. Bryant responded with an off-balance 3-pointer, but the Lakers were forced to foul Denver twice, and the Nuggets (20-16) hit all four free throws.

"Our defense wasn't good for much of the game, but as the game went on, it got a little better," Denver coach George Karl said. "They were making a lot of shots, but I thought we got better contesting, and that has not been the case most of the year. We've been kind of an average fourth-quarter defensive team, but tonight, as the game went on, we got a little more confident and a little better defending their 'A' stuff."

Ty Lawson had 21 points and 10 assists to lead Denver, which had six players score in double figures. Gallinari finished with 20 points, and JaVale McGee added 17 off the Denver bench.

The Nuggets outscored the Lakers 60-38 in the paint and 25-14 in fast-break points.

"We're a team that attacks," Denver forward Kenneth Faried said. "We attack the rim, each and every game. No matter who is in the paint, trying to protect it, we're going to keep attacking it."

Bryant had 29 points on 11-of-26 shooting and added seven assists. World Peace had 16 points, including four 3-pointers. Howard tied a career-high with 26 rebounds and added 14 points, but he had just four points in the second half. Gasol scored 11 points, and Nash contributed 10 points and 13 assists, though he turned the ball over five times.

Now the Lakers are challenged with keeping an already fractured locker room together.

"We've been chippy a lot this year," Howard said. "We don't want to lose. Our intent is not to go out there and lose every game. We're in a tough stretch. We have to stay together. We can't point fingers at anybody."

NOTES: Steve Blake (abdominal surgery) missed the game for the Lakers. Gasol (plantar fasciitis), Howard (shoulder), Chris Duhon (back spasms) and Jordan Hill (ankle/herniated disc) played despite their ailments. Hill scored 13 points in 15 minutes. ... Wilson Chandler (hip) was sidelined for the Nuggets. ... Los Angeles won the season series with the Nuggets last season, 3-1, before beating Denver 4-3 in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs. ... Nash is five assists shy of 10,000 for his career. He currently ranks fifth on the all-time assist list, behind No. 4 Magic Johnson (10,141). ... Nuggets guard Corey Brewer had a career-high 27 points in the Denver's 126-114 in over the Lakers on Dec. 26. He scored 14 points Sunday.
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