Andrew Bynum Returns, Lakers Beat Nuggets

Andrew Bynum had missed the last 32 games with a knee injury, and he looked like it for most of the first half. But things started to fall into place for him in the second, and behind big nights from Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, the Lakers beat the Nuggets by a score of 116-102 at Staples Center.

Bynum was understandably a step slow in his comeback, and despite playing 13 minutes in the first half, managed just three points and four rebounds. He scored his first field goal in over two months about halfway through the second quarter, on a pass from Luke Walton that he was able to convert with a jump-hook in the middle of the lane.

In the second half, we saw glimpses of the more comfortable Bynum, the one who made shots in rhythm and cleaned up rebounds for buckets that we were getting used to seeing during the first part of the season. Bynum finished the game with 16 points and seven rebounds, on 7-of-11 shooting in just 22 minutes of action.

Bynum's return might have overshadowed everything else, but the monster game that Pau Gasol had deserves to be noticed.

Gasol had 27 points and 19 rebounds, and was active around the basket all night long. Both his rebounding total and the amount he had on the offensive glass (11) were both career highs.

Kobe Bryant was as efficient as he was effective, scoring 33 points on 11-of-19 shooting in 35 minutes.

L.A. started off strong, and built their lead to as many as 10 in the second quarter. They shot 15 free throws in the first quarter alone, which is odd for the home team when Steve Javie is the lead official -- he usually enjoys torturing the home crowd with a series of questionable calls. But the Nuggets overcame all of that, and managed to tie the game at the half on a long three from J.R. Smith.

The Lakers pulled away again in the third, and kept their double digit lead for much of the fourth. L.A. outscored Denver by seven in each of the final two periods.

One interesting note on the Lakers' side was that after Derek Fisher picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter, Shannon Brown was the first sub off the bench that Phil Jackson sent in to replace him. That normally would have been a spot for Jordan Farmar, but it appears that, at least for now, Brown has passed Farmar on Jackson's depth chart. If you look at the final box score, there isn't a huge difference in the two players' statistics, and both played an equal number of minutes. But they eye test tells you that Brown is a much better fit out there than Farmar right now, which is something that no one would have predicted after the Lakers made the trade to bring Brown into town.

Denver came into this game as one of the hottest teams in the league, riding an eight-game winning streak and recently having moved into the two-spot in the Western Conference. But the NBA is all about matchups, and without a traditional big man, they're really no match at all for the likes of Gasol and Bynum in the paint. The Nuggets have lost 22 of their last 24 games in Los Angeles, and barring a change in personnel, the trend is one that's extremely likely to continue.

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