DENVER — The Lakers and Magic Johnson each made a little history here Sunday.
Johnson did so with his fourth straight triple double--a 23-point, 11-rebound and 10-assist performance that helped power the Lakers to a 126-118 victory over the Denver Nuggets.
And the Lakers, who have won 16 of their last 17 games, did so by winning 60 games for the third consecutive season, something they had never done before.
"This is the first time we've won 60 games this early in the season," Johnson said. "So we're happy but we're shooting for the best record in the NBA and we have a couple more games to win."
The Lakers, whose 60-15 record is the best in the NBA, need another win or another Boston loss to clinch the home-court advantage through the playoffs. Sunday's win also gave the Lakers a sweep of their five-game season series with the Nuggets.
That, in itself, was noteworthy. The Nuggets had not been swept by the Lakers in the regular season since the Denver franchise joined the NBA more than a decade ago.
If the Nuggets (33-42) hold on to the eighth spot in the Western Conference, they will face the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs. That tidbit meant more to the Nuggets than the Lakers. To a man, the Lakers found more gratification in winning No. 60.
"This is a prestigious number," Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said. "I think we've shown we've been a class team now and been consistent. We've worked hard for it, and no one even thought we'd even be in the running at the beginning of the season. I feel very happy about what we've achieved."
Coach Pat Riley seconded Abdul-Jabbar.
"This year it's even more pleasing because of how we were rated earlier in the season," Riley said, alluding to preseason talk in some quarters that the Lakers' reign in the West was over.
Abdul-Jabbar added another NBA record to his burgeoning collection when he sank a hook shot early in the second half. The field goal pushed him over 15,000 for his career, most in league history.
"I didn't know anything about it," he said.
But if Abdul-Jabbar's record went unnoticed, it largely was because of Magic. When the fourth quarter arrived, Magic dominated. He scored 11 of the Lakers' 13 points during a 13-6 run midway through the quarter.
Johnson replaced A.C. Green with 8:54 left. Promptly, he fed Mychal Thompson for a layup to put the Lakers further ahead, 106-101. Danny Schayes then scored, drawing Denver to within three. Then, as he said later, it was Magic's time. He dunked off a fast break, connected from 18 feet and 12 feet out and then sank a shot from 22 feet with 5:57 left. The Lakers were up, 116-107.
Then Magic applied the coup de grace. He broke out to the three-point line in front of the Nugget bench, where he took a pass and fired the ball past the reach of the Nuggets' Fat Lever. As the ball swished, Magic grinned and trotted downcourt.
It was 119-107 then, and though the Nuggets would pare the lead to five points later, Magic figured the game was over.
"I thought we were in good position," he said, ice bags lashed to his knees and his left foot. "No question they made a run at us and we had to come back. But it (the three-pointer) was the last big shot we made. It made them think it was out of reach."
From the Nugget bench, Darrell Walker watched Magic's play. "It was a big shot," said Walker, who had 17 points. "When he took the three, it shocked me and I could tell Fat was surprised. I thought we had Magic under control earlier. But that's why he's (going to be) the MVP of the league. He can do that when he wants."
Magic offered a preview of his fourth-quarter show in the last two minutes of the first half. The Lakers were 21 for 51 from the floor (41%) but led, 63-61, at halftime because of Magic. He hit a jumper with 1:57 remaining, then connected with James Worthy on a bounce pass for a layup. Twice, he maneuvered inside for offensive rebounds and layups.
It was an inauspicious half for Abdul-Jabbar. He scored just one point and missed all five shots against the Nuggets' Blair Rasmussen. But in the third period, with his decade-old streak of double-figure scoring games in jeopardy, Abdul-Jabbar awoke. He scored 10 points to help the Lakers to a 96-95 lead at the end of the quarter.
"I don't sleep well at all at this altitude and I was up most of the night," said Abdul-Jabbar, who finished with 15 points. "It was difficult at first to get into the flow of the game."
When the fourth quarter arrived, Magic took over to record another triple double. And what mattered most to Magic was his effort meant a victory. A record-setting victory.