The Lakers wandered into the eye of the NBA's biggest storm, the Denver Nuggets, and came away with a warm, fuzzy feeling.
They did something different for a change, grabbing another double-digit lead and actually hanging on to it, putting away the encumbered Nuggets, 107-97, Friday at the Pepsi Center.
Ron Artest outplayed Carmelo Anthony, which deserved a series of exclamation points as long as the Rocky Mountains, and Kobe Bryant put on a show in the third quarter with 14 points and four assists.
Lamar Odom had so many layups and short jumpers that it got burdensome to count them all, the Lakers' most consistent player this season finishing with 18 points and 10 rebounds, leading the way on a big night for the team's big men.
It was a reminder of how dominant the Lakers can play, the two-time defending champions snapping to life in a seamless second half, their fans easily outnumbering those of the Nuggets as the arena began emptying in the final minutes.
And with that, the Lakers (32-13) improved to 2-5 on the road against teams with winning records, making one wonder how they ever looked so bad Wednesday in Dallas . . . or in general.
Bryant finished with 18 points and seven assists, and Artest had 19 points on pristine eight-for-12 shooting. His assignment, Anthony, had 23 points on 10-for-24 shooting, a point total aided by some meaningless late baskets.
"There's nights where he's had good nights and there's nights where I had good nights," Artest said. "Tonight was a good night for the team."
The Lakers had taken comfortable leads in their previous three games, but lost to the Clippers and Dallas after failing to maintain their scoreboard distance.
No such problem Friday. The Lakers trailed by three at halftime but tamped down the Nuggets in the third quarter, 33-20, on the way to — gasp! — a double-digit lead, 82-72.
The Lakers didn't hyperventilate this time, extending it to 16 and never fretting down the stretch.
Andrew Bynum plowed through respectable defensive center Nene for a handful of easy shots, settling down after a slow start for 17 points while making his last seven shots. The Lakers' other 7-footer, Pau Gasol, had 19 points and 13 rebounds.
Nene and Bynum stared each other down boxing-style after Nene gave Bynum a small shove after fouling him. Bynum popped up and the two went nose-to-nose for a few seconds before referees intervened.
Nene had only nine points, but Bynum had one thing on his mind after the game.
"How 'bout Lamahhhh," he bellowed, smiling as he spoke about Odom. "He was strong."
The Lakers' entire frontcourt was strong, the Nuggets getting badly outrebounded, 47-27.
Denver fans were ready from the start, soundly booing a cartoon image of Jack Nicholson on the scoreboard before tipoff, plenty confident that the Nuggets had beaten Nicholson's team in their last four regular-season games here, including a 118-112 track meet two months ago in which Anthony scored 32 points on 14-for-25 shooting.
Anthony wasn't right from the start, missing eight of his first 10 shots. In fact, Artest outscored Anthony in the first quarter, 9-7, but the Lakers trailed, 25-22, thanks primarily to Bynum's missing all four of his shots.
The second quarter belonged to Arron Afflalo, the former UCLA standout blistering the Lakers for 16 first-half points while making four of five from three-point range.
Afflalo, however, had only six points in the second half.
Despite the chaos buzzing around Anthony's possible departure, the Nuggets (24-18) had beaten Miami and Oklahoma City in the last two weeks.
The Lakers took the Nuggets seriously. It showed, in many ways.