Lakers knock off Nuggets, return to NBA finals

May 30th, 2009 - 5:57 pm ICT by IANS  

Los Angeles, May 30 (DPA) Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers knocked off the Denver Nuggets, and punched a return ticket to the National Basketball Association (NBA) finals.
Bryant had 35 points with 10 assists, and the visiting Lakers rocked the Nuggets 119-92 on Friday night in Game Six to win the Western Conference finals best-of-seven series.

“It’s a huge win, obviously, Denver is a great team, they’re skilled at every position,” Bryant said. “We had to elevate our game, if we didn’t do that we’d be going home early.”

“We saved our best game for last here, or maybe we caught our opponent a little bit off stride,” said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. “But we had the momentum almost from the beginning of the game on.”

The Lakers, who are seeking their 15th championship in 30 NBA Finals, will rest before facing either league-MVP LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers or the Orlando Magic in Thursday’s opener.

Orlando leads its series 3-2, and can advance for the first time since 1996 with a win at home on Saturday, or with one at Cleveland on Monday, if necessary.

Last spring the Lakers were beaten by the Boston Celtics, including an embarrassing 39-point wipe-out Game Six clincher, leaving a bad taste in their collective mouths during the summer.

“Having to go back and to live with that disappointment over the summer, we’re going back regardless and were going to get this done,” said Jackson, who gets another chance at a record-breaking 10th championship ring.

Spanish-native Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom scored 20 points apiece, while Trevor Ariza added 17 for the Lakers, who shot 57 percent from the field and hit all 24 free throws.

“It was a great overall performance,” said Gasol, who added 12 rebounds and six assists. “Tonight, it was balanced inside and out. I don’t know if we can play any better.”

Gasol understands it’s another step in the ultimate journey in the run for the ring.

“We’re four wins a way from reaching our goal,” he said. “That’s all we have on our mind right now.”.

Carmelo Anthony had 25 points and J.R. Smith added 24 for the Nuggets, who advanced to the conference finals for the first time in 24 years, but failed to get to their first-ever championship round.

“I don’t feel very good about congratulating them,” Denver coach George Karl said. “They are a great team and they earned this series and earned the right to represent the Western Conference.

“All this series I saw a little crack in the Lakers, but they cemented those cracks back up and I think they are the best team in the NBA.”

At the same time, Karl praised his players for a magical season.

“This was a very special season for me as a coach,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for more from every guy in that locker room. Everyone on this team is better now than they were in November.

“This is too great a Nuggets season not to celebrate. I will not celebrate tonight, but I assure you I will celebrate sometime this summer.”

The Lakers hit 60 percent of their shots en route to a 53-40 halftime advantage. Bryant led the way with 18 points, including 11 in a 21-7 run to close out the second quarter.

“We didn’t get into the game, we didn’t get into the push by the crowd and we had a very ordinary offensive game.” Karl said. “Then the guy, number 24 (Bryant) had a great five minutes at the end of the half that no one could have covered him.

“He made about four shots in that stretch, I think Jesus would have trouble covering. That took the game from a manageable game to 13. In the second half, we tried to outscore them rather than try to out defend them.”

Bryant’s jumper at the 2:42 mark gave the Lakers a 20-point cushion before the Nuggets pulled to within 79-67. Los Angeles went on a 9-0 run, bridging the third and fourth quarters, capped by Odom’s three-pointer to make it 88-67.

Bryant scored nine of his team’s 11 points to offset three-pointers from Linas Kleiza, Anthony and Smith to keep the Lakers comfortably ahead 101-82 with six minutes left before coasting home.

Anthony tipped his hat to the Lakers.

“I don’t know how they did it, but they found the energy and motivation to close our season on our home floor,” he said. “You can’t take anything away from the Lakers. They couldn’t play any better than they did tonight.”

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