- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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DENVER -- It was the first time the Los Angeles Lakers locker room had to deal with a loss in a game that mattered since Game 5 of the NBA Finals back in June. But after the game, Kobe Bryant looked like he was ready to check into a relaxing massage appointment at a day spa.
Wearing a plush black robe (with his KB24 logo stitched in gold thread on the back) and a bemused smile on his face, Bryant took on all comers asking him what happened to the once-unbeaten Lakers.
Los Angeles is now 8-1 after squandering a 14-point third-quarter lead en route to a 118-112 loss to the Denver Nuggets.
"I don't just sit over losses, it doesn't bother me," Bryant said. "Just move on to the next one."
The Lakers were outscored by 14 points in the fourth quarter as Denver reserve Ty Lawson mounted a stirring comeback with 11 points and four assists in the quarter. The Lakers shot just 29.2 percent from the field in the final quarter, with Bryant going 2-for-8, while the Nuggets shot 60 percent and forced the Lakers into five turnovers; L.A. had only five turnovers in the first three quarters.
"They played better than us," Bryant said matter of factly. "They made bigger shots than we did. Melo [Carmelo Anthony] made some tough ones down the stretch. We had a couple good looks, we missed them -- it's just the way it goes. We can look at in the fourth quarter how they got back in the game, just taking care of the ball and getting back in transition, which sparked their momentum. We're very good at making those adjustments. That normally doesn't happen to us. Tonight it did and we just kind of roll with it."
Bryant finished with a season-high 34 points, but shot just 11-for-32 in the process.
The grim face of Lakers coach Phil Jackson counterbalanced his captain's easy smile.
What did you think of that fourth quarter, coach?
"It sucked," Jackson said.
L.A. fell behind by nine and was able to cut Denver's lead to four with 1:27 remaining, but Bryant and Ron Artest missed 3-pointers on the team's next two possessions.
"There was plenty of time to take that game down another notch, and we cranked up a couple 3s," Jackson said. "Instead of doing some execution, we just settled for 3-point shots. I was not happy with that."
Another person unhappy with what unfolded all night was Pau Gasol. After shooting better than 50 percent from the field in six of the Lakers' first eight games, Gasol was atrocious from the field; a 6-for-17 shooting line marred his double-double performance (17 points, 20 rebounds).
"Tonight wasn't a good game for me as far as offensively, and I couldn't establish myself as an inside presence as I usually do, so that didn't help," Gasol said as he assessed his night. "I wasn't getting enough good of a base on my shots. I was flipping the ball too much up there instead of following through with my body. I had an advantage a lot of times and I wasn't able to capitalize, and I just fell for going for the same shot when I have a variety of shots that I can go to and shoot over guys."
Said Jackson: "Pau just didn't have a good game. He didn't play well, he didn't make shots that he normally makes, and I thought he wasn't that person that we can look to to take advantage of positions down in the post."
Lamar Odom, who has been as impressive as Gasol through the undefeated start, finished with just three points on 1-for-6 shooting and played only 26 minutes as Jackson went with a smaller lineup most of the night to match Denver's speed.
Shannon Brown was a bright spot, scoring nine of his season-high 19 points in the fourth to give L.A. a shot at it. Brown didn't feel the Lakers' offense had much to do with it, after all, because scoring 112 points should be enough to win on most nights.
"We could have did a little bit more to be able to put ourselves in position to win this game, and it was mainly defense," Brown said.
The Lakers allowed the Nuggets to shoot 48.9 percent, and Denver buoyed that accuracy rate by scoring a whopping 54 points in the paint.
With Andrew Bynum expected to be sidelined for at least another two weeks with his right knee injury and Theo Ratliff in and out of the lineup because of knee tendinitis, Lakers forward Matt Barnes said that everybody on the team needs to pick up the slack and plug up the middle.
"We didn't lock the paint down. When you give up 54 points in the paint, you're going to have a hard time winning the game," Barnes said. "We know that we definitely got to seal our lane up and be tougher down there. Teams are probably going to start talking about that and really try to attack that, so with only one true center with Theo and Bynum hurt, it's going to take a group effort to close that paint down, help each other and rebound."
Now the Lakers will try to rebound from their first loss of the young season. They head home to host the Phoenix Suns on Sunday.
When asked if the Lakers could learn anything from their first loss of the year, Bryant summed it up by saying:
"No, not really. It's just another night in November."
Another night, a first loss, a sign of more to come if the proper measures aren't taken.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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