L.A. Lakers 102, Nuggets 84

DENVER, April 26 (AP) -- The Denver Nuggets just can't seem to keep their emotions or Kobe Bryant in check.

Bryant led a balanced offense with 22 points and the Los Angeles Lakers took a 3-0 lead in their first-round series, routing the flustered Nuggets 102-84 on Saturday.

Game 4 is Monday night, and the Nuggets are going to have to get more out of their All-Star duo of Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson if they hope to take the series back to the Staples Center.

For once, the Nuggets clamped down on defense, but their high-flying offense went AWOL as Anthony and Iverson had their worst performance together since the two superstars first teamed up 16 months ago.

"I was getting to the basket, I just wasn't finishing," Iverson said. "And the same thing happened to 'Melo."

Anthony and A.I. shot a combined 10-for-38 and finished with 16 and 15 points, respectively.

No thanks to the Lakers, either, suggested coach Phil Jackson.

"I thought our defense packed it in on them, but they missed some easy shots," Jackson said. "I told the team at halftime, 'They're not going to shoot like this for the whole game. They missed some close shots, some shots they usually make. We'll have to play better defense in the second half.'

"But they never showed up. They never got it going."

Iverson sat out all but 1:11 of the fourth quarter, when Nuggets coach George Karl emptied his bench, prompting Anthony to accuse the team of quitting.

"In a game like tonight, on our home court, us giving up as a whole is uncalled for," Anthony fumed. "Yeah. We quit. Everybody. From the coaches to the players, we quit. And I said it.

"I'm not blaming anyone. I'm not pointing the fingers at nobody. I didn't play worth a (expletive) tonight, and I can accept that. But as a competitor, there's no way that I should lay down and quit and lay down on my team like we did tonight."

Anthony said the Nuggets surrendered in the third quarter, although Karl didn't empty his bench until the fourth quarter.

"You could just sense it," Anthony said. "I'm saying 'we,' because I'm part of this, too. I'm saying I quit. We all just gave up."

At least one teammate concurred.

"That's the way it seemed," Kenyon Martin said. "Everybody came out of the game. A.I. came out, and he leads the league in minutes. It's frustrating."

"Well, I don't think I quit," Karl retorted. "... In the fourth quarter, I tried to find some answers. ... I don't think that's a fair, I think 'Melo's emotional right now, he's frustrated right now, as we all are."

Bryant said he never sensed the Nuggets had given up until the very end.

"Well, they're down 20-something points with two minutes to go," Bryant said. "But not until that point."

Bryant had a placid first half himself (8 points of 3-of-8 shooting) but scored nine quick points in the third quarter to put the Lakers ahead 64-51 and quiet the Pepsi Center crowd that loves to hate him.

Bryant has always played well in Colorado, where fans have persistently heckled him ever since he was charged with sexual assault at a ski resort in the Rocky Mountains in 2003, even after the criminal case was dismissed and a civil suit settled.

Anthony drew a technical foul -- Denver's seventh in the series -- after he was stripped on his way to the basket, leading to a breakaway by Bryant that stretched the Lakers' lead to 78-61 with 2:33 left in the third.

Los Angeles took an 83-64 lead into the fourth quarter and never looked back as Karl sent in the likes of Yakhouba Diawara, Chucky Atkins and Steven Hunter into the game.

Is that quitting? No way, said Eduardo Najera.

"We can point fingers but at the end of the day we missed shots. Tonight, we just missed a lot of layups, easy, wide-open shots," Najera said.

The Nuggets, who have lost seven straight playoff games, figured they could get to the rim and the foul line more than they had in the first two games in Los Angeles. They got to the rim all right, but the shots didn't fall and the whistles didn't sound.

By Karl's count, Anthony and Iverson were 1-for-20 on layups.

The Nuggets limped to the locker room trailing 53-46 at halftime with 'Melo and A.I. a combined 5-for-21, pretty much negating the boost they got from forward Linas Kleiza's start despite a hyper-extended elbow. He finished with 15 points and nine boards.

"Your spirits have to be broken somewhat if you're the home team after a game like today, but you don't make it to this level if you aren't resilient," Lakers guard Derek Fisher said. "You always come back the next time feeling you can do the things better that you didn't do the time before."

Iverson had no answers on this night.

"I've been in a lot of playoff series," he said. "I don't think I've ever been this frustrated."

Neither has Anthony.

"In my five years here, this is the first time I've felt like this," Anthony said. "This one hurt. It hurt bad."

Notes: Luke Walton added 15 points off the bench for Los Angeles, and Pau Gasol and Fisher each scored 14. ... Lakers F Ronny Turiaf, who lost 11 pounds and missed Game 2 with tonsillitis, was scoreless in three minutes. ... Nuggets C Marcus Camby was held scoreless in a playoff game for the first time since 2000.


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