LOS ANGELES —Just walking into Staples Center again brought back precious memories for Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and the rest of the NBA champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Bryant had 18 points and eight rebounds before sitting out the fourth quarter and Lamar Odom teamed with four reserves to help preserve a 17-point lead and hold off the Denver Nuggets for a 102-95 exhibition victory Saturday night.
Odom and reserve Devin Ebanks each had 14 points for the Lakers, who returned to their home court for the first time since beating the Boston Celtics in Game 7 of the NBA finals on June 17 to win their second straight title and 16th in franchise history.
“When I drove up today, it was a great feeling pulling in here because I had a quick thought about it and remembered that the last time we were in this building, we won the title," Derek Fisher said.
“I think we’re made some great additions, in terms of continuing to be hungry and passionate about winning. We got a few guys that have put in some good solid years in this league and have been good solid players everywhere they’ve been. Now they’ve come here with a great attitude and want to be a part of something special."
Six Nuggets scored in double digits, including former UCLA star Aaron Afflalo with 20. Carmelo Anthony, the subject of non-stop trade speculation ever since he thumbed his nose at a three-year, $65 million extension the Nuggets offered him in June, was rested by coach George Karl after getting 30 points and 24 rebounds Thursday night in a 100-95 victory over the Clippers.
“I don’t think he’ll play tomorrow night," Karl said. “It’s due to the fatigue of training camp. I give certain guys choices of when they want to play. We plan to play him against Oklahoma City and Portland, and we’ll try to get him healthy for those games."
The Lakers led 85-68 after three quarters and all of the starters were on the bench for the start of the fourth. The Nuggets seized the opportunity, cutting it to 89-84 with a 16-4 run, capped by Ty Lawson’s 3-pointer and Renaldo Balkman’s layup with 7:38 remaining.
The Lakers got the lead back up to double digits before the Nuggets crept back to 94-91 on a tip-in by Eric Boateng, a three-point play by Lawson and a pair of free throws by Afflalo with 5:08 to play. But Shannon Brown responded with a 3-pointer at the other end to help snuff out Denver’s rally.
The first half ended with a spectacular long-range hookup from Bryant to Odom, who outraced Nene down the floor and found himself right under the basket for a last-second layup after Bryant’s high-arching heave from the backcourt barely cleared Nene’s outstretched arm. Odom started the play by rejecting a shot by Balkman for his only block of the game.
“We were doubling and Balkman was able to cut the hole, but I was able to find him right at the end and get a piece of it," Odom said. “Then I looked up at the clock and saw there were 5 seconds left, so I went into a sprint and Kobe just got it over his fingertips. I was able to just kiss it off the glass. The strength of our team is our chemistry and ability to read each other and play to each other’s strengths."
Afflalo went to the bench 4 1/2 minutes into the second quarter after picking up his third foul, and was still on the sideline when he received a technical foul from referee Mike Callahan about 4 minutes later for complaining too loudly after a blocking foul was called against teammate J.R. Smith in a collision with Fisher.
Smith, who averaged a foul for every 11.8 minutes he spent in the backcourt last season, is one of many players along with Afflalo who are trying to deal with the NBA’s tougher rules against excessive talking and whining to the referees. Somehow, Bryant has managed to get through his first three preseason games without a technical foul. He had 14 last season.
“It’s going to be a huge adjustment because it’s definitely going to affect games and the way you play. Now you’ve got to control your emotions out there," Smith said. “I’m not surprised about the rule. I mean, the refs are getting tired of us complaining—and sometimes, I think we do go a little too far. You’re trying to win a game and it’s in the heat of emotion. I think something had to be done about it, but I don’t think it was directed at anybody individually." - AP