Lakers-Nuggets Preview


Andrew Bynum had a stellar season debut in leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a victory over the Denver Nuggets in the opener of a home-and-home set.

He knows building on that performance won't be easy with the series shifting to Denver.

After closing out 2011 with three straight victories, the Lakers look to ring in the new year with a sweep of the Nuggets on Sunday night.

Bynum was a spectator for Los Angeles' first four games while serving a suspension for a flagrant foul against Dallas' J.J. Barea in Game 4 of last season's Western Conference semifinals. The 7-foot center returned to action Saturday against Denver and made an immediate impact, finishing with 29 points on 13 for 18 shooting and 13 rebounds in a 92-89 victory for the Lakers (3-2).

"They were looking for me a lot. I was a focal point early in the offense, so I knew the quicker I got down the court, the better it was,'' said Bynum, who made four of his first five shots and finished the first quarter with 10 points. "I just wanted to come out and be aggressive. I wanted to get it down low, and when I got it, I made shots."

Bynum also blocked two shots and the Nuggets, who were outrebounded 50-36, had no answer for slowing him down.

"His power around the basket - we haven't seen it yet," Denver coach George Karl said. "We'll have to make some adjustments on him - there's no question. They hurt us rebounding the ball and they hurt us with Bynum's power underneath the basket."

Although Denver was overpowered by Bynum, simply facing the Lakers at the Pepsi Center on New Year's Day could work in its favor. The Nuggets have won four of five meetings in Denver, and because Bynum's conditioning is not yet up to speed, the short turnaround and drastic change in elevation could impede his game

"I was winded like crazy. First game… I couldn't breathe in the first six minutes," Bynum said. "It's only going to be a little bit worse (Sunday) because of the altitude."

Despite Bynum's big game on Saturday, victory was still well within reach for the Nuggets (2-2).

The Lakers missed 22 of 24 shots from 3-point range, and Kobe Bryant was plagued by foul trouble and finished with a season-low 17 points. He averaged 27.8 points in the first four games despite playing with a torn ligament in his right wrist. The 13-time All-Star, however, did contribute Saturday with nine assists and 10 rebounds and scored seven of his points in the fourth quarter.

Denver also had several chances late to pull it out, but couldn't make a shot. Up 89-84 with 3:40 to play, the Nuggets missed their final seven field goal attempts and all three free throws. Danilo Gallinari blew an easy fast-break layup, Nene missed a dunk and Bynum and Paul Gasol each blocked layups.

Reserve forward Al Harrington led the Nuggets with 21 points on Saturday, while Ty Lawson, who averaged 22.3 points in the first three games, was held to nine.

"We get three layups and a couple of free throws in the last three minutes, and we miss all of them,'' Karl said. "Our offensive confidence is a little short right now. We're not making shots and we kind of have to build our confidence to get the momentum going the right way."