It's been nearly two months since the Los Angeles Lakers were at .500. With how well a determined and confident Kobe Bryant has been playing, the Lakers could even their mark Monday against the Denver Nuggets.
Bryant recently guaranteed the Lakers would make it to the playoffs this season; words that many believe were just a motivating tool for a struggling squad. The five-time NBA champion has backed up his claim and so has the team, which recorded its third straight win and eighth in 11 tries Sunday at Dallas.
In a 103-99 slugfest against Dirk Nowitzki and the Mavs, Bryant scored 38 points and buried some big shots down the stretch. He registered 14 points in the fourth quarter, including seven in the last three minutes, and his jumper with 42.6 seconds remaining made it 101-97. Bryant also became the youngest player to eclipse the 31,000-point mark.
"All he needs is the ball. Just throw it over to him and that's how he likes to operate," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "We just need to make sure the spacing right so he can have some outlets if he does get stuck."
Bryant hasn't been stuck in each of his last two games, posting 38 or more points, and is averaging 28.5 points in his last four games. He is third overall in the NBA with 27.1 ppg.
Steve Nash ended with a season-high 20 points against the Mavericks and Dwight Howard compiled nine points and 13 boards for Los Angeles, which hasn't been at .500 since a 15-15 mark back on Dec. 28 and sits 2 1/2 games off the eighth and final playoff berth in the West.
After visiting the Nuggets, L.A., which is 10-18 on the road, will return to Staples Center for back-to-back games versus Minnesota and Atlanta.
Denver has won two of three games since a three-game slide and is coming off a rather easy 113-99 road triumph over the Charlotte Bobcats Saturday.
Ty Lawson continued his recent surge with 20 points, five assists and five rebounds, while Andre Iguodala added 13 points and 10 assists for a Nuggets team that is third in the league in scoring (105.2). JaVale McGee provided 17 points, six boards and three blocks off the bench in a winning cause.
"The guys were out there playing hard on both ends and it really showed in how we played tonight," Nuggets head coach George Karl said.
The Nuggets, who halted a four-game road slide and have won 11 of 15 games, were able to keep the Bobcats from reaching 100 points even though they're one of the worst defensive teams, allowing 101.6 ppg. They are 22-3 when allowing fewer than 100 points.
Lawson's recent rise has him averaging 26.2 points in the past six games. He has scored 20 or more points in six straight and 13 of the previous 19 contests.
The Nuggets will visit Portland after hosting the Lakers and have won eight in a row at the Pepsi Center. Denver is 23-3 as the host this season.
Denver has won two of three matchups with Los Angeles in 2012-13 and six of the past eight as the host in this series.