DENVER, Colorado - A return home proved just what the Denver Nuggets needed on Friday as they downed the Los Angeles Lakers 99-84 to narrow the gap in their NBA Western Conference first-round playoff series.
The Nuggets, who had never led in losing the first two games of the series in Los Angeles, jumped out to a 16-point lead in the first quarter to put the Lakers on their heels and led by as many as 24 in the first half.
Denver closed the gap in the best-of-seven series to 2-1, and have a chance to even it up when they host game four on Sunday.
"Obviously, I would like to have seen us come out with a lot more energy," said Lakers coach Mike Brown.
"The energy they brought to the table was, I thought, the difference to the game," he added. "That team was desperate, the crowd was desperate."
The Lakers had out-scored the Nuggets by a combined 59-39 in the first quarters of the first two games, so Denver coach George Karl had stressed getting off to a better start.
"You've got to be ready," Karl said before the game. "You've got to be the guy to create the fight, start the fight."
Although his team avoided falling into the dreaded 0-3 hole, from which no NBA team has ever rallied to win a playoff series, Karl said it would only get more difficult.
"Sunday night, it's going to be more intense, more physical," he predicted. "We're going to have to find some energy."
Ty Lawson scored 25 points for the Nuggets. Reserve center JaVale McGee added 16 points, 15 rebounds and three blocked shots for Denver -- a breakout performance after he scored just seven total points in the first two games.
Danilo Gallinari and Andre Miller scored 13 apiece and Kenneth Faried finished with 12 points and 15 rebounds for the Nuggets, who lost forward Al Harrington to a broken nose in the third quarter.
Lakers center Andrew Bynum caught Harrington with an elbow as they battled for a rebound. Harrington left the game and didn't return, and his status for game four was unclear.
Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 22 points, six rebounds and six assists.
Bryant connected on just five of 12 shots in the first half and finished 7-of-23 from the field. That included 3-of-10 from three-point range.
In contrast, he had averaged 34.5 points in the first two games.
"I thought he did have some of the same looks that he had the first two games. They just didn't go in," Brown said of Bryant's drop-off. "They went in the last two (games)."
The contest was the only Western Conference game on Friday's schedule, but Saturday sees three Western Conference duels resume.
Notably, the reigning NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, down 0-3 to Oklahoma City, will try to avoid being swept out of the post-season when they host the Thunder.
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