The Los Angeles Lakers are getting healthy and it is transforming them into contenders once again.
The Lakers try to move above .500 for the first time in over a month on Wednesday night as they put their season-high winning streak on the line against the Denver Nuggets.
Los Angeles has ripped off five straight victories to get to .500 at 14-14. It hasn't been above .500 since a 6-5 mark on Nov. 20, but the return of guard Steve Nash may in fact be the missing spark.
Nash missed 24 straight contests with a fractured left leg suffered in the Lakers' second game of the season before returning to action on Dec. 22 at Golden State.
Nash had 12 points and nine assists in his return and followed that up with 16 points, 11 assists and six rebounds in Tuesday's 100-94 Christmas Day win over the New York Knicks.
"I hope we're playing the best basketball we've played," said Nash. "I hope we're learning from our experiences and our games. I think we're seeing more assists and less turnovers. The ball's moving, and I think defensively and particularly in the second half, we've been a lot better."
Kobe Bryant upped his league-leading scoring average to 29.9 points per game after logging 34 in Tuesday's win. It was his ninth straight game of 30-plus points, but Bryant was impressed with Los Angeles locking things down defensively in the final quarter.
"We held them to 16 points in the fourth quarter and played good defense," Bryant said. "We did it as a group and we did it in stages. It's a process, we just tried to get better."
Metta World Peace added 20 points and seven rebounds, while Pau Gasol had 13 points, eight boards and six assists.
The Nuggets will try to avoid becoming a victim at the Staples Center for a second day in a row after dropping a 112-100 decision to the hosting Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday.
Denver held a one-point lead after the first, but was outscored 42-22 in the second as the Clippers extended their winning streak to 14 straight games.
"I thought we had a really good game going until the second quarter," Denver coach George Karl admitted. "They created a lot of their offense off our bad offense. They have a confidence right now that is pretty powerful."
Kosta Koufos paced the Nuggets with 16 points and 10 rebounds and Ty Lawson chipped in 15 points and five assists in the setback, Denver's second in its last three games.
The Nuggets also fell to 7-13 on the road this season, but are 8-1 at home, where they have won six straight and haven't lost since Nov. 15.
Denver's road record does include a setback to the Lakers on Nov. 30. One game after being held to just 77 points in a loss, Los Angeles got things going in a 122-103 win.
Dwight Howard had 28 points and 20 rebounds, while Antawn Jamison (33 points) and Jodie Meeks (21 points) became the first Lakers reserves to combine for at least 54 points since Feb. 6, 1994.
Danilo Gallinari scored a team-high 19 points and Andre Iguodala added 14 points for the Nuggets, who have lost three straight and five of their past seven versus the Lakers.
Los Angeles, though, has dropped five of its past seven in Denver.