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Kobe Bryant scored 31 points on Monday to lead the Lakers over the Nuggets and into the second round.
L.A. Lakers 107, Denver 101 (F)
DENVER, April 28 (AP) -- The Denver Nuggets finally gave the
No surrender on this night. No frustration fouls filling up the fourth quarter of another blowout.
No matter. The Lakers dispatched the tempestuous Nuggets anyway.
Kobe Bryant scored 14 of his 31 points over the final 5 1/2 minutes Monday night, leading the Lakers to a 107-101 victory and a sweep of their first-round series.
"He is unbelievable," Luke Walton said of Bryant, his teammates and one of the MVP favorites. "It's always so comforting knowing you have the best closer in basketball. They were making huge plays down the stretch, but Kobe came right back to do whatever it took: huge plays, steals or an incredible shots like that fadeaway over Kenyon Martin from the top of the key. He wanted it badly tonight and we followed his lead."
Pau Gasol added 21 points in the Lakers' first sweep of a playoff series since whitewashing New Jersey in the 2002 NBA finals, the last time they won it all.
The Lakers will meet the winner of the Utah-Houston series, which the Jazz lead 3-1, in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Nuggets won 50 games this season for the first time in two decades, and they did it in the power-packed Western Conference. But they were no match for the top-seeded Lakers, who are 25-5 with Gasol in the lineup.
Gasol led the way early, scoring 18 first-half points, and Bryant took over in the waning minutes, scoring nine straight points in every way -- a turnaround jumper, a 3-pointer, a driving layup and a 15-foot floater -- to give the Lakers a 97-96 lead.
"It feels good to win the way that we won today," Bryant said.
When Walton made a wide-open 3 from the right corner, the Lakers went ahead 100-96 with 2:37 left, and Martin and Carmelo Anthony soon fouled out. Bryant made three free throws and a jumper after that.
Anthony accused his team of quitting in Game 3 and he insisted he wasn't going to let that happen Monday night. He was right. The Nuggets didn't lay down, even when they fell behind by 13 points in the first half. They stormed back to make it a seesaw game in the second half.
But again, Los Angeles had the answers and sent the Nuggets to their first-ever sweep in a seven-game series.
"My wish would be that we had four games like tonight and we all could have been happier," said Nuggets coach George Karl, who lost a seven-game series for the first time in his 20-year NBA coaching career. "I've said all along, when they play the right way, they're fun guys to coach."
Anthony fouled out with 1:19 left and Bryant made one free throw for a 101-96 lead. After
Marcus Camby's first points since the series shifted to Denver came on a 3-pointer from the left corner with 33 seconds left, cutting the Lakers' lead to 103-101, but Gasol maneuvered underneath for a dunk, and Bryant added two free throws with 18 seconds left.
The Nuggets were bounced in the first round for the fifth straight season -- only this time, they didn't even win their customary one game, suffering their first sweep since San Antonio beat them 3-0 in 1995, when the first round was best-of-five.
"That's disappointing," Anthony said. "I don't know what else to say about that. All you got to do is try to come back next year and try to start all over again."
The Nuggets have great players who just don't play great together.
"They have a lot of talent," Bryant said. "But a lot of times it's not necessarily the amount of talent you have on a team but it's the chemistry within that talent and how well you play together.
"I'm very fortunate to be on a team where everybody just meshes. We all jell together. We all work well with one another. And that's really the key."
The Nuggets couldn't keep Los Angeles out of the lane for easy layups and dunks and they made the silly mistakes that the Lakers avoided, like the missed dunks by Nene and Anthony, who blew an alley-oop rim-rattler that bounced out of bounds at halfcourt in the third quarter.
Anthony trotted back downcourt, laughing all the way.
"I don't know what I did wrong," Anthony said. "I just bounced it off the rim. It was one of those dunks that wouldn't go down."
Moments later, he picked up his fourth foul, and it looked like the Nuggets were ready to surrender for the summer.
Then, out of nowhere, they made a game of it, taking their first lead of the night on Linas Kleiza's step-back 11-footer that put Denver ahead 73-71, igniting the crowd.
The Lakers righted themselves and took a 79-77 lead into the back-and-forth fourth quarter, which ended with the Nuggets walking dejectedly off the court, including Nene, who overcame testicular cancer, and Martin, who resurrected his career by becoming the first professional athlete to return to stardom after microfracture surgery on both knees.
"There's a lot of good stories," Karl said.
And another one walking across the court.
As Karl walked off, he embraced his son, Coby Karl, a rookie reserve guard on the Lakers who, like his dad, overcame cancer in recent years.
"Coby playing in the NBA is the best gift that has ever happened to me in my life," George Karl said. "And hopefully, I'll make him feel miserable one day."
Game notes: Gasol entered this series with an 0-12 playoff mark, all the games with Memphis. ... Iverson picked up the Nuggets' eighth technical foul of the series in the third quarter. ... Camby had 17 rebounds. ... The Lakers went 7-0 against Denver this season.