L.A. Lakers 116, Denver 99

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 21 (AP) -- A year ago at this time, the Los Angeles Lakers were flying high after a 100-96 victory over the Spurs at San Antonio, raising their record to 26-13.

That's when a series of injuries and other misfortunes contributed to a slide in which the Lakers lost 27 of their last 43 regular-season games before being eliminated 4-1 by Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs.

While the timing of significant injuries to Andrew Bynum and Trevor Ariza in a week's time and a difficult upcoming schedule might be a cause for deja vu, the Lakers are determined to avoid a similar collapse this season.

That being the case, they considered a decisive 116-99 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Monday night a most important win.

"Absolutely. You have Andrew go down, you have Trevor go down, you get that vibe that, 'Here we go again,''' said Kobe Bryant, who had 17 points and a season-high 11 assists.

"This was a win we really needed to get some momentum back going on the road,'' said Derek Fisher, who shot 10-for-16 including 6-for-7 from 3-point range in scoring a season-high 28 points -- one off his career high.

Jordan Farmar scored 19 points and Lamar Odom added 15 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists for the Lakers (27-12), who outscored the Nuggets 31-8 to finish the third period and start the fourth to take a 108-87 lead.

"It's a good win for us,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We just can't make too much out of anything and stay really close into what we're trying to do -- try to force every game to be an opportunity to win, don't give anything away. We know we're going to have to work hard to get some wins.''

The Nuggets played the final 2 1/2 quarters without Carmelo Anthony, who sprained his left ankle midway through the second period. Team spokesman Eric Sebastian said X-rays of Anthony's ankle were negative, and the 23-year-old forward was to be re-evaluated Tuesday in Denver.

Anthony, the NBA's fourth-leading scorer with a 25.8-point average, made a jump shot with 5:58 left before halftime before landing on Bryant's right foot. Anthony dropped to the floor, grabbing his ankle in pain. He left with 13 points and four rebounds.

"It's hurting. We'll see,'' Anthony said. "I don't like to sit out. I'm going to do a lot of rehab, but I don't really want to rush this. We feel like we can't get a break with injuries. Hopefully we can get them all out of the way right now.''

Denver coach George Karl said it was "a substantial sprain.''

"But if Melo comes back quick, we're hopeful for this weekend,'' Karl said. "I don't think he'll play Wednesday, but hopefully we'll get him for the weekend on Friday or Saturday.''

Allen Iverson led Denver (24-16) with 24 points and seven assists. Linas Kleiza added 21 points, Marcus Camby had 18 points and 12 rebounds and Kenyon Martin added 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Nuggets, who lost their fourth straight road game.

The Lakers, already without center Bynum until at least the middle of March, got more bad news before the game, learning forward Ariza would be sidelined about eight weeks because of a broken bone in his right foot - an injury he sustained Sunday in practice.

But they had more than enough to complete a sweep of the season series with the Nuggets, winning the three games by an average of 16.3 points per game while moving within one game of the Western Conference-leading Phoenix Suns.

Bryant attempted only seven shots, making five.

"You've just got to make the defense pay, do what's necessary to win the game,'' he said.

Lakers guard Coby Karl played the final 3:19 to become the third player in NBA history to go against his father, Denver coach George Karl.

"It's the best,'' the elder Karl said of coaching against his son for the first time. "I wish it would have been under more interesting circumstances. I don't have any words for it. He's a tremendous story for the game of basketball.''

Father and son are both cancer survivors.

"It's special playing in the NBA, period,'' said the younger Karl, who scored one point. "Having dad watching you on the sideline and being up by 20 is really good. When the game started, I wasn't even thinking about it -- it was just another game.''

Camby scored 10 points during a 22-10 run to start the third quarter, giving the Nuggets a 79-77 lead. But three 3-pointers by Fisher and another by Farmar sparked a 14-3 spurt that put the Lakers ahead 91-82 entering the final period.

A 17-5 run to open the fourth quarter gave the Lakers their 21-point lead.

Kwame Brown, booed every time he touched the ball during a difficult third quarter in the Lakers' previous game, was cheered early in this one, especially after a pair of dunks in the opening 3 1/2 minutes.

Brown, Bynum's replacement at center, had seven points and a season-high 11 rebounds.

Notes: The Lakers also have been playing without C Chris Mihm (sore right Achilles tendon) and F Vladimir Radmanovic (sprained right ankle). They hope both will be back in the next couple weeks. ... Martin returned to action after missing three games with a staph infection, but teammate Eduardo Najara sat out because of an injured right elbow. ... The Lakers beat the Nuggets 127-99 at Staples Center on Nov. 29, and 111-107 six days later in Denver despite Iverson's 51 points. ... The Lakers have won 15 of their 17 games against the Nuggets at Staples Center since the facility opened in 1999.

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