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Kobe Bryant watches helplessly as Los Angeles Lakers fall in Denver

By Michael Kelly, The Sports Xchange   |   March 3, 2016 at 1:33 AM
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DENVER -- Kobe Bryant said he owed it to the Nuggets fans to play in his final trip to Denver. His ailing right shoulder didn't allow him a throwback game like he had in December.

Bryant played just 11 minutes and he watched helplessly on the bench as the Nuggets rallied past the Los Angeles Lakers for a 117-107 win on Wednesday night.

Guard D.J. Augustin scored 22 of his season-high 26 points in the fourth quarter and guard Emmanuel Mudiay had 22 points and seven assists to lead the Nuggets (23-37) to their first home win since Feb. 5.

D'Angelo Russell scored 24 and Julius Randle had 17 for Los Angeles.

The night was all about Bryant, and the fans that packed Pepsi Center for a rare sellout were mostly celebrating the 18-time All-Star guard. Bryant got a warm ovation during the pregame introductions and got more cheers when the large scoreboard showed a montage of his career at the first timeout of the game.

Bryant, who sat out the two previous games because of his right shoulder, then hit his first shot of the game, a 3-pointer, with 4:40 left in the first quarter. He went 2-for-3 from the line before leaving with five points after playing through pain.

"It's important to get out there and play and show appreciation for all these years," Bryant said. "Had it not been the case, I wouldn't have played. I wanted to get out there, though."

The fans didn't know Bryant was done for the night and started chanting "We want Kobe!" midway through the third quarter.

The scoreboard then showed Bryant sitting on the bench, tapping his shoulder, with a caption announcing he wouldn't return.

"Fans were definitely mad," Mudiay said. "I thought he was going to play more but he's got to take care of himself. It's always just an honor to be on the same court as him."

Mudiay, who turns 20 on Saturday, said he appreciates the tutoring he has gotten from Bryant.

"He's teaching me so much, me going through the process, and texting back and forth here and there," Mudiay said. "Honestly I didn't think he'd be the guy to guide me through a lot of stuff early but he's been helpful for me."

Bryant said he is paying it forward with Denver's rookie point guard.

"It's always about carrying the game forward," he said. "I've been very open with him, because I received so much knowledge as a young player myself."

Mudiay was injured and didn't play when Bryant had 31 points in a 111-107 in Denver on Dec. 22. Performances like those have people asking if Bryant ever reconsiders retiring, but he said he knew he was done before his 20th season started.

"I was very fortunate to have that epiphany. I feel very comfortable with it, very at peace with it," Bryant said. "It's a very personal decision, a very emotional decision. You have to make that from within. You can't cheat the game."

The Lakers (12-50) also lost Jordan Clarkson to a strained left patellar tendon in the third quarter. With the additional absence of guard Lou Williams Los Angeles did not have its top three scorers in the fourth quarter.

"It put us in a little bit of a bind," Lakers coach Byron Scott said. "I had to play some lineups that hadn't played together all year."

Despite the loss of that offense and playing on consecutive nights, the Lakers rallied to take an 88-85 lead on guard Nick Young's 3-pointer early in the fourth.

Augustin turned things around for Denver. He hit two 3-pointers and had a steal to spark a 10-0 run that gave the Nuggets a 95-88 lead.

The Lakers got within 106-101 but Mudiay hit a jumper and Augustin converted a three-point play to push the lead to 10.

Augustin hit six straight free throws down the stretch to seal the win.

NOTES: Lakers G Lou Williams will miss about a week with a mild strain of his left hamstring. Williams suffered the injury in Tuesday night's victory over Brooklyn. Los Angeles coach Byron Scott said he will spread the minutes between Gs Anthony Brown, Marcelo Huertas and Nick Young. ... Nuggets F Kenneth Faried played with a sore lower back that had threatened to keep him out of the game. ... Los Angeles G D'Angelo Russell is the youngest player in NBA history to make eight 3-pointers when he did it against the Nets on Tuesday. The 20-year-old finished with 39 points.

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