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LAst Night's Action: Kobe-less Lakers Make It Interesting in Denver

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Denver Nuggets defeat LA Lakers 98-96. In hockey terms, Kobe Bryant was a healthy scratch for the Lakers. In media terms, TNT was crying. As for Laker fans, it almost turned out well. The Lakers climbed back from a 15 point deficit in the third quarter to take the lead by attacking the paint and their swarming defense. After a back and forth fourth quarter, the Nuggets had the 98-96 lead with 12 seconds left. Derek Fisher with a second remaining went up for a three to win the game and was blocked by Carmelo Anthony. No foul, no bucket, no win. With the absence of Kobe, Sasha Vujacic took his place in the starting lineup scoring eight points including a key three down the stretch that gave the Lakers a seven point lead. Pau Gasol led the Lakers with 26 points and 13 boards while Ron Artest added 22 points. Shannon Brown was key from the bench scoring 12 points in 27 minutes. For the Nuggets Carmelo led the way with 31 points, although he did land awkwardly on his ankle after blocking Fisher’s shot. JR Smith known for his big games against the Lakers didn’t disappoint with 26 points. The Lakers have now lost four of their last five games as they head to their final four games of the season.

LA Dodgers (1-2) defeat Pittsburgh Pirates (2-1) 10-2. Chad Billingsley proved that the third inning of the final spring game against the Angels at Dodger Stadium where he gave up five runs including a grand slam was an aberration. Not to say he didn’t get into trouble, but he was able to get out jams especially in the fourth inning when with the bases loaded he got out of the jam striking out Andy LaRoche and pitcher Paul Maholm. Meanwhile the Dodgers did a much better job getting runners home. They took a 1-0 lead when after Reed Johnson doubled, James Loney singled him home. After Rafael Furcal doubled to lead off the third inning, Johnson bunted him over to third and Matt Kemp scored him home with a fly ball to deep center for a 2-0 lead. After the Pirates got one run back for a 4-1 deficit, the Dodgers exploded for four runs in the seventh inning off of Pirates reliever Hayden Penn. The first six hitters got on base safely with the only out being recorded when Johnson was thrown out at home. Penn would save himself with a double play to end the inning with the Dodgers leading 8-2. After Delwyn Young doubled Ryan Doumit home in the eighth inning, the Ronnie Belliard responded with an RBI double and Garret Anderson hit a fly ball scoring Loney for the 10-2 lead.

Chad Billingsley (W, 1-0): 5 1/3 innings, 1 earned run, 5 hits, 4 walks, 7 strikeouts. 107 pitches/66 strikes.

Paul Maholm (L, 0-1): 6 innings, 4 earned runs, 2 walks, 3 strikeouts, 1 homer. 90 pitches/61 strikes.