Michael Cooper returns to Staples Center tonight, this time as the Denver Nuggets' coach, an interim position that could become less temporary if the Nuggets finally live up to expectations that developed after their first playoff appearance in 10 years.
Cooper, selected to the all-defensive team eight times in 12 seasons as a Laker, has tried to create a defense-first mentality on the Nuggets. One game does not fill a resume, but the Nuggets defeated Philadelphia, 97-92, Friday in Cooper's first try since being promoted from assistant coach.
Cooper coached the Sparks to WNBA titles in 2001 and 2002.
The Lakers defeated the Nuggets, 89-78, exactly two months ago in the season opener, but Jeff Bzdelik was coach at the time.
"That was then," Laker Coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "They probably have a whole new psychology. They got that first win [under Cooper], which is big for them, against a team that's been playing really, really good."
The 76ers were held under 100 points for the first time in eight games.
"Michael Cooper was a defensive player," Laker point guard Chucky Atkins said. "I couldn't imagine those guys not playing defense."
Atkins provided his take Saturday on the discussion he had with Kobe Bryant before the Lakers' game against New Orleans on Dec. 22. Bryant was coming off an 11-point effort against Memphis and went on to score 29 against New Orleans, 42 against Miami and 48 against Toronto.
"I kind of thought that he was being a little too passive and not necessarily being aggressive enough or as aggressive as he has been in past years," Atkins said. "I just told him that he needed to be more aggressive in the first quarter. A lot of times Kobe was standing straight up, trying to get everybody up, trying to get other guys involved.
"That's all well and good, but teams scout and they know ... that he was trying to pass the ball, so teams were trying to stay on us. They didn't think that he was trying to do anything. He would be more effective for us, getting guys [involved] like myself and Caron [Butler] and Lamar [Odom] if he was more aggressive."
Atkins also asked Bryant for more 40- and 50-point outbursts.
"He still owes me a '50,' " Atkins said. "Hopefully, he can get that soon."
vs. Denver, 6:30, FSN West
Site -- Staples Center.
Radio -- KLAC (570), KWKW (1330).
Records -- Lakers 15-12, Nuggets 14-15.
Record vs. Nuggets -- 1-0.
Update -- Denver forward Carmelo Anthony had 24 points against Philadelphia after sitting out five games because of a sprained left ankle. Forward Kenyon Martin has been out two games because of a strained back and center Marcus Camby left Friday's game because of a strained back. Guard Greg Buckner sat out Friday because of a groin injury.