Lakers set for key battle with Nuggets
(Sports Network) - The Lakers have been surprisingly competitive without Kobe Bryant in the lineup and may be without the superstar again when they try to clinch a playoff berth against the Denver Nuggets tonight in a key Western Conference matchup.
Bryant, the NBA's leading scorer, has sat out the last three games with a sore left shin.
After losing in Phoenix, however, the Lakers responded by beating New Orleans and San Antonio on the road without their MVP candidate.
Metta World Peace stepped up during Bryant's absence on Wednesday, compiling 26 points on 10-of-15 shooting while Andrew Bynum pulled down a staggering 30 rebounds, as the Lakers rolled to a convincing 98-84 victory over the Spurs.
Bynum added 16 points to go along with his career-high effort on the glass, while Pau Gasol chipped in 21 points and 11 boards for the Lakers, who held a decided 60-33 rebounding advantage.
"I was just going to go get them," Bynum said about his big rebounding night. "They missed a lot of jump shots and they were shooting very quickly, so they were coming off the rim nice and soft."
Bynum joined legendary names Wilt Chamberlain, George Mikan, Kareem Abdul- Jabbar and Elgin Baylor in the Lakers' 30-rebound club.
Los Angeles' sixth win in eight games helped maintain a slim one-game lead over the Clippers atop the Pacific Division and for the third seed in the West. The Lakers can clinch a postseason berth by winning tonight.
The Lakers, who are opening up a three-game homestand tonight that will also include visits from Dallas and San Antonio, are an impressive 23-6 as the host this season.
No timetable has been set for Bryant's return, but coach Mike Brown indicated that the superstar wasn't "pushing to play."
The Nuggets, meanwhile, are coming off a win of their own, albeit an unimpressive one. Ty Lawson scored 24 points and Arron Afflalo netted 21 as Denver held off a stumbling Minnesota Timberwolves team, 113-107, that lost All-Star Kevin Love to a concussion early in the game.
Danilo Gallinari contributed 18 points while Kenneth Faried notched a 16- point, 12-rebound double-double in the victory, Denver's second straight.
Despite the triumph head coach George Karl was anything but happy after watching his team nearly squander a 24-point lead.
"I think it was the worst win of the year. I'm highly disappointed in our habits, our mental toughness," Karl said. "I'm happy that we won but I'm not very happy with the way we won."
The Nuggets are currently deadlocked with Houston for the seventh position in the West. Utah is 1 1/2 games back.
The Lakers have won two of three over Denver this season, including a 92-89 victory in SoCal back on New Year's Eve. The Nuggets are just 4-24 in their last 28 games as the guest in this series.
04/13 14:25:28 ET