Long winning streaks are something every team desires, but can be deflating when they end.
The Lakers’ nine-game skein was halted by Denver last Sunday afternoon at the Staples Center when small forward Kelvin Martin scored after a missed free-throw attempt that cemented a 95-90 win.
For the two-time champion Lakers, the season opened with eight consecutive victories and ugly losses at home to clubs they should have easily beaten.
Then before the All-Star break, they couldn’t find the basket, even dropping a decision on the road to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers.
Since then, the Lakers fashioned a 17-1 mark before the five-point setback to the Nuggets. When the San Antonio Spurs (58-19) snapped a six-game losing streak with a victory on the same day over the Phoenix Suns, they pushed their lead to 2 1/2 games over the Lakers.
Power forward Pau Gasol and center Andrew Bynum — who has averaged a dozen boards since the All-Star game — were injured late, and their presence was sorely missed.
Gasol tallied eight points at the half, and concluded with 16 points and 12 rebounds.
Bynum grabbed a game-high 16 caroms, five on the offensive end. “There was no energy in the building,’’ he said.”We just played flat in the fourth quarter.”
The Lakers (55-21) turned the ball over 18 times, which is too many, especially when making 42.9 percent of their shots from the field.
After three quarters it was tied, 69-69, and went back-and-forth before the Nuggets — who now own a six-game winning streak — carved out an 82-81 lead with 5:30 left in the fourth quarter.
Denver, which has gone 15-4 since All-Star small forward Carmelo Anthony was traded to the New York Knicks, increased its lead to 89-83 with 3:23 showing.
Lakers shooting guard Kobe Bryant made 10 of 27 shots from the field and finished with a game-best 28 points.
Bryant scored six points in the first quarter, and 13 points in the second quarter as the Lakers led 47-40 after 24 minutes. The Nuggets made 29 percent of their shots from the floor at the intermission.
In a snail-paced opening quarter, the Lakers led 8-6 as 5:47 remained, but the Nuggets (43.9 percent from the field) outscored the home team 15-12, and led by one point entering the second quarter.
Power forward Danilo Gallinari was the Nuggets’ primary scorer, pouring in 18 points in the opening half. Gallinari, who was part of the trade, had four second-half points and finished with seven rebounds.
Martin scored 18 points and scooped up eight rebounds, while point guard Raymond Felton accounted for 16 points, all in the second half. Felton, who came over from the Knicks, added four assists and five boards.
Power forward Lamar Odom came off the bench and dropped in 17 points with seven rebounds, and his three-pointer late gave the Lakers a chance to pull it out, but Martin’s follow dashed that opportunity.
The Lakers went ahead 51-46 with 9:17 left in the third quarter, but the Nuggets (47-29) didn’t go away and pulled within 62-61 with 2:59 left.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.