DENVER — Kobe Bryant recently conceded to time, but for one night, the aging star looked like the Bryant of old.
The Lakers shooting guard had 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists, and Los Angeles held on to beat the Denver Nuggets 111-103 Tuesday night.
It was the second triple-double of the season for Bryant and the 21st of his career. He finished one turnover shy of a quadruple-double.
“It’s really cool, actually, because longevity is hard, especially at this position,” Bryant said of his triple-double.
Forward Carlos Boozer had 19 points and nine rebounds, and point guard Ronnie Price scored 18 points for the Lakers, who lost six of their previous seven games.
Los Angeles (10-22) bounced back behind a refreshed Bryant. Playing his 19th season, the former MVP acknowledged he can’t play the same quality minutes he did five years ago. He is known as fierce competitor who never wants to sit, but he accepted a three-game hiatus last week — a plan coach Byron Scott called “the experiment” — to give his 36-year-old body a break.
Bryant returned Sunday and played 32 minutes in a home loss to Phoenix, and he logged just under 32 minutes Tuesday.
He admitted the 40-minute games are in his past.
“I was a lot younger then and I could play those minutes,” he said. “I could handle those minutes. Now I can’t. There’s no use in fighting it, you accept it. My body could handle those minutes, and now my body can’t.”
He spent the three games off breaking down his game. He is lowering his shot attempts, taking 10 against the Suns and 11 against the Nuggets. His last shot Tuesday was the 25,000th of his career.
“My body (feels them),” he said. “I feel every single one of them.”
Guard Ty Lawson had 16 points and nine assists, and rookie center Jusuf Nurkic scored a career-high 16 points for the slumping Nuggets, who lost for the fourth time in five games.
Denver forward Wilson Chandler didn’t play in the second half because of a right quad contusion.
The Lakers had lost seven in a row in Denver but erased that streak with a hot start before withstanding a Nuggets rally in the fourth.
Los Angeles led by 18 late in the third when the Denver reserves made it a game. Nurkic scored six of his points in a three-minute span, the last on a steal and layup that made it 83-76.
The Lakers built the lead back to 11, but forward J.J. Hickson’s slam made it 93-87.
“Our first unit didn’t play with the same energy as our second unit did,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said. “It was just a difference in energy between the two groups. It seemed like (the reserves) wanted it more, so I rewarded them by letting them stay on the floor.”
Bryant and Price hit 3-pointers to increase the lead to 101-89. Denver guard Nate Robinson hit a 3-pointer and a fast-break layup to make it 101-96 with 4:04 left.
Bryant sank five free throws to push it back to a 10-point lead, and Denver couldn’t rally.
“He played well, looked fresh,” Scott said of Bryant. “So far this experiment, the first two games, is working pretty well.”
The Lakers hit their first seven shots of the game and 12 of their first 13 to take a 29-17 lead. They cooled off the rest of the period, going 2-for-8, and they took a 33-29 lead into the second.
Los Angeles began the second quarter with a 15-3 run to grab a 48-32 advantage.
“I put the starters back in, and they blew the lead open, even more than it was before,” Shaw said.
The Lakers shot 61 percent in the first half and 69.2 percent from 3-point range to lead 62-46 at intermission.
Denver cut the lead to 67-56 on a layup by center Timofey Mozgov with 8:43 left in the third, but Los Angeles quickly extended the gap. Price hit two 3-pointers to start a 14-2 run that made it 81-58.
Overall, Los Angeles sank 52.6 percent of its field-goal attempts, while Denver shot 44.8 percent.
NOTES: Lakers C Tarik Black wasn’t available to play, coach Byron Scott said. Black was claimed off waivers Sunday from the Houston Rockets. … Nuggets F Darrell Arthur was dressed but did not play. Coach Brian Shaw said he would only use Arthur in an emergency situation. Arthur missed four games with a strain in his lower left leg before playing 11 minutes against Toronto on Sunday. … Lakers G Nick Young entered Tuesday shooting a career-best 44.9 percent from 3-point range. … Nuggets G Randy Foye (strained right quad) could resume basketball activities at the beginning of January. He missed his 19th game due to the injury.
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