Carmelo Anthony got the better of Ron Artest, scoring 25 points in 29 minutes and leading the Denver Nuggets past the Los Angeles Lakers 105-79 Friday night.
The Lakers' six-game winning streak was snapped. They scored just eight points in the third quarter as the Nuggets turned a two-point halftime lead into an 87-64 cushion that had ecstatic fans chanting "Beat L.A.!" something Denver couldn't do enough of in the Western Conference finals five months ago.
Held to seven points in less than 12 first-half minutes because of foul trouble, Anthony scored 10 quick points in the third quarter to give the Nuggets (7-3) a double-digit lead and turn this one into a laugher.
'Melo's run was highlighted by his steal from Lamar Odom and a breakaway basket. After that, the Lakers (7-2) looked every bit like the team that was coming off a late game in Los Angeles the night before.
J.R. Smith came off Denver's bench again and scored 20 points in his third game back from a seven-game suspension to start the season, and the Nuggets celebrated their return to the Pepsi Center after a six-game trip by leading the Lakers by as many as 29 points.
Andrew Bynum and Kobe Bryant each scored 19 points to lead the Lakers, who sat their starters in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach. Artest scored 11.
The Lakers trailed 58-56 at the half thanks to a flurry of 3-pointers by Bryant and Artest, whose shot was so deep that he almost stepped out of bounds.
While so much was made in the offseason of how the Lakers augmented their championship resume with the signing of Artest, the Nuggets quietly improved their versatility and offense with the additions of Aaron Afflalo and Ty Lawson and the subtractions of Dahntay Jones and Linas Kleiza.
Many preseason prognosticators painted the Nuggets' run to the Western Conference finals as an aberration, but Lakers coach Phil Jackson wasn't among them. He said the Lakers view the Nuggets as bona fide challengers in the West after they took the Lakers to six games last summer.
"There's no doubt that we consider the team among the three or four (top) teams in the Western Conference," Jackson said.
Jackson, however, was eager to finally put a big body on 'Melo with Artest.
"He's going to be physical with him and he can take the physical punishment that Carmelo dishes out," Jackson said before tip-off. "He'll give some back. That's a big part of it. Carmelo has outweighed our guys at that position by 30, 40 pounds. I remember the year that Kobe asked to play him three or four years ago and Carmelo got a big second half out of it, had a lot of fun at Kobe's expense. I told Kobe, 'He outweighs you by 50 pounds. You can't just run in there and wrestle the tiger.'
"We tried to use speed last year and a variety of defensive mechanisms to hold him in check, but Ron's a guy that can really physically stand up to him."
Artest and the Lakers didn't have to worry about 'Melo much in the first half as he picked up three personal fouls and sat out the final 4 1/2 minutes of the second quarter.
And Anthony didn't have to worry much about Artest in the second half, scoring a dozen points in the third quarter, when the Nuggets outscored L.A. 29-8.
Lawson, who is listed generously at 5-foot-11, rewarded the fans who stayed in their seats to the end by blowing past 7-footer D.J. Mbenga for a slam dunk and a foul for three-point play.
NOTES: Bynum had 15 rebounds. ... The Nuggets were without backup PG Anthony Carter, whose chronic strained left hip prevented him from suiting up. He's day to day. ... Phil Jackson likes LeBron James' idea of NBA players giving up No. 23 to honor Michael Jordan. The Los Angeles Lakers coach who won six titles with Jordan in Chicago compared the idea to the NHL's retirement of No. 99 to honor hockey great Wayne Gretzky in 2000.