Tuesday, April 29, 2008
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Kobe Bryant scores 31 points as Lakers sweep Nuggets

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[April 29, 2008]  DENVER (AP) -- No surrender on this night. No matter, the Los Angeles Lakers dispatched the tempestuous Denver 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 over the Nuggets and a sweep of their first-round series.

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 Nuggets became the first 50-win team to ever be swept in the first round of the playoffs.

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.

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.

When Luke Walton made a wide-open 3 from the right corner, the Lakers went ahead 100-96 with 2:37 left, and Denver's Kenyon 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.

Anthony fouled out with 1:19 left and Bryant made one free throw for a 101-96 lead. After Nene's slam dunk, Bryant's running bank shot make it 103-98.

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 to cap the scoring.

Lamar Odom had 14 points and 12 rebounds for Los Angeles and Vladimir Radmanovic scored 12 points.

J.R. Smith led the Nuggets with 26 points, while Allen Iverson had 22 and Anthony 21.

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.

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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. Moments later, he picked up his fourth foul.

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.

Gasol sent the Lakers to their locker room up 64-54 at halftime when he made a difficult layup between two defenders at the buzzer.

In the first quarter, Gasol drove the lane for a dunk while Anthony watched from the lane like he was awaiting a free throw. Another time, Gasol slammed home a dunk while Camby lay on the floor after what he thought was a foul and the officials saw as a flop.

After missing two dozen shots in the paint in their 102-84 loss in Game 3, the Nuggets ditched their off-day practice and watched 10 minutes of film and listened to motivational speeches from their coaches while the Lakers went through a 90-minute workout.

The Nuggets had dozens of "I Believe" signs taped throughout their weight room, on the walls, even on the machines.

Notes: Nuggets coach George Karl had never been swept in a seven-game series during his 20-year NBA career. ... 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.

[Associated Press; By ARNIE STAPLETON]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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