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LAKERS REPORT

They'll go for a sweep while Nuggets split

April 28, 2008|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

DENVER -- The Lakers are pulling together. The Denver Nuggets are ripping apart.

It should make for an interesting Game 4.

Drama isn't the Lakers' concern for the first time in forever, which is fine with them, seeing as how they're not the ones playing like a group of independent contractors wearing the same uniform to work.

Tonight could be the last stand for the Nuggets and a declarative step for the Lakers, who haven't swept a playoff series since 2002.

The odds are overpoweringly one-sided -- no team in NBA history has come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series -- but the Lakers continue to act as if the Nuggets won Game 3 instead of imploding in front of an ill-tempered Pepsi Center crowd.

"We have to prepare as if we're preparing for Game 1," Kobe Bryant said. "It's just the same approach for us."

The Lakers can't be too careful, apparently, though the truth remains that they're again swimming in the warm waters of their established playoff history. They have won three consecutive games by 14 or more points, a feat they've accomplished only three other times in their playoff past (May 1984, April 1985 and April 1986).

They have dominated at both ends, holding the Nuggets nine points below their regular-season average of 110.7 a game while making a solid 29 of 71 three-point attempts (40.8%) in the series.

The Nuggets haven't reacted favorably, to put it mildly.

Carmelo Anthony said aloud that the entire team quit Saturday in Game 3, "from the coaches to the players."

Allen Iverson also was frustrated after the 102-84 loss, a mood that seemed to follow the team to Sunday's practice.

Neither Iverson nor Anthony addressed the throng of media members, opting instead to slip out a side door. The Nuggets didn't actually hit the court, but they watched game video for about 10 minutes and were addressed by Coach George Karl.

"It's a frustrating business," Karl said of his players' slipping out. "It's a very difficult place to be. I think we've got to respect their emotion, their side of how they want to handle their day."

Karl seemed to hope for the best while acknowledging the Nuggets' deficiencies.

"We've been a frustrating team all year long. That's kind of who we are," he said. "We kind of get tied up and then we untie ourselves. I told them today, bad shots are contagious, but good passing is contagious."

As if to further the point, about 50 sheets with "I Believe" in big block letters were hung up all over the Nuggets' workout room, with some even stuck on the seats of leg-lift machines.

The Lakers are aware of the brewing storm in the Nuggets' corner and are trying to stay at arm's distance.

"That has absolutely nothing to do with us," Bryant said. "Everybody here wants to ask me a question about what Carmelo said and what Denver's doing. I could care less. It doesn't matter. We have to do what we do to get ready and let that take care of itself."

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Pau Gasol came into this series with a career 0-12 record in playoff games. Now he's on the verge of winning a playoff series for the first time in his seven-year career.

"I want to keep this excitement going," he said. "That's why [tonight] is going to be so important, to be able to take that step forward and then move on from it."

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The latest confirmation that Andrew Bynum isn't close to returning: He is not with the team in Denver.

There is only a remote possibility that Bynum, out since Jan. 13 because of a knee injury, will return to the Lakers this season.

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Bryant and Derek Fisher are in a race of their own as they pursue a team playoff record.

Bryant is atop the Lakers' career list with 152 playoff three-pointers. Fisher is right behind him with 149. Michael Cooper is third with 124.

Times staff writer Jonathan Abrams contributed to this report.

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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