Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers needed seven games to eliminate the Denver Nuggets from the playoffs last season.
Getting a victory in their first meeting since will likely require a much better shooting performance, especially from the free throw line.
Bryant and the Lakers will try to rebound from the team's worst effort of the season Friday night against the Nuggets.
Los Angeles (7-8) dumped Denver (8-8) out of the opening round of last spring's postseason, winning 96-87 in Game 7 at Staples Center as Bryant averaged 29.1 points in the series.
The superstar guard isn't far off that pace this season, leading the NBA with 27.7 points per game. He's averaging 31.8 over the past four games, but the Lakers have dropped three of them to fall to 2-3 under coach Mike D'Antoni.
They failed to capitalize on another big night by Bryant in Wednesday's 79-77 home loss to Indiana, giving up the decisive basket with 0.1 seconds to play. Bryant overcame the flu to pour in 40 points, but he committed 10 turnovers while Los Angeles shot a season-low 31.6 percent from the field and missed 20 of 43 from the line.
"It was just a tough game for us, because we didn't make shots," Bryant said. "On top of that, we didn't make free throws. I've got to minimize my mistakes. Ten turnovers is way too many for me, so I have to work on perfecting that and bringing that down. I just felt like I played to the crowd too much."
Perhaps hosting Denver can provide a spark for the Lakers. They've won 32 of the past 38 meetings there, including a 25-4 record while averaging 109.7 points during the regular season.
Bryant has 29.5 points per contest over the past 25 overall matchups.
He could use some help from Dwight Howard, who is averaging 11.5 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.8 blocks while hitting only 14 of 31 free throws over the last four games. The All-Star center showed signs of ending his funk Wednesday with 17 points, eight rebounds and four blocks, but he made just 3 of 12 from the foul line.
"It's been a tough stretch for us early in the season," Howard said. "We can't lose our faith. We'll find a rhythm and we'll get in a groove, but we can't let what we're going through get us down right now."
Howard is averaging 17.1 points and 13.7 boards in 14 career games versus the Nuggets.
Denver is trying to salvage a win in the finale of this three-game road trip, but the team may feel it should be looking for a winning record.
Video review stopped the Nuggets' celebrations by showing Andre Iguodala's potential game-winning 3-pointer came after the buzzer in Thursday's 106-105 loss at Golden State.
Coach George Karl seemed to stop short of declaring a controversy.
"If I put a stopwatch on ... it seems like the clock started early for me," Karl said. "There's nothing to argue about. The camera says it's in his hands."
Iguodala, who finished with 22 points, leads Denver with 15.7 per game and is shooting 39.3 percent from 3-point range. The swingman is averaging 17.3 points in six road meetings with the Lakers despite shooting 3 for 19 from beyond the arc.
Danilo Gallinari, who contributed 20 points and nine rebounds Thursday, may be looking to redeem himself in this visit to Staples Center after making just 1 of 9 shots from the floor to finish with three points in Game 7. The forward finished the series averaging 13.4 points on 36.2 percent shooting while making only 4 of 23 from long range.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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