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Bryant sinks game-winner in overtime

DENVER (AP) -- With a sweet swish as the clock neared zero, Kobe
Bryant picked the perfect way to say "Welcome Back, Coach!"

The Kobe and Phil Show made a grand return Wednesday night, as
Bryant hit a long jumper with 0.6 seconds left in overtime to lift
Los Angeles to a 99-97 victory over Denver in Phil Jackson's first
game back as coach of the Lakers.

"The win wasn't important for me, it was important for the
team," Jackson said. "But getting the win is twice as nice."

Bryant, who scored eight of his 33 points in overtime, swished
home the game-winner, then ran with clenched fist to the other end
of the court, chest-bumping with teammate Devean George to
celebrate his biggest shot of this very young season.

After a timeout, Denver's Voshon Lenard had a good look at a
3-pointer at the buzzer, but it missed. Jackson walked off the
bench with a smile and pointed toward a group of Lakers fans who
staked out the corner of the Pepsi Center.

Bryant's big shot was his second chance at a game-winner.

After trailing 89-84 late in regulation, the Lakers scored five
straight points and got the ball back. Bryant went one-on-one with
Greg Buckner and had a decent look at a long jumper, but it rimmed
off at the buzzer and set the stage for overtime.

At the end of the overtime, Los Angeles' original play was for
the shot to go to center Kwame Brown, who had a mismatch on Eduardo
Najera. Brown missed the shot, though, and when Bryant won the
fight for the rebound, there was little doubt who was taking the
next shot.

"He got a good shot on the move and does what he does great --
shooting those kinds of shots when he's under duress," Jackson
said.

The last regular-season game Jackson coached for Lakers provided
a very similar ending. With a chance to win the Pacific Division
and the second seed in the West, Bryant hit a leaning 3-pointer
from the top of the key to send a game against Portland into
overtime. He then hit the game-winning 3-pointer in the second
overtime to give the Lakers the division.

This team is much different, though.

Helping the effort on this night was newly acquired point guard
Smush Parker, who finished with 20 points and six assists. Lamar
Odom had eight points, nine rebounds and seven assists.

Marcus Camby led Denver with 19 points and 14 rebounds before
fouling out in overtime. Carmelo Anthony also fouled out in the
extra period. He finished with 16 points on a frustrating 6-for-17
shooting night.

"I kind of wanted to blame it on myself," Anthony said of the
loss.

The finish for Los Angeles couldn't have been any more dramatic
or perfect given the story line -- Jackson returning to the team he
led to three championships after a year off to coach Bryant, the
player with whom he didn't always get along.

The Lakers missed the playoffs for the first time since 1994
last season, and when they beckoned Jackson back, Kobe and Phil
appeared to put their differences aside. Not much was expected of
the Lakers this season, but on the first night, they came out ahead
in what is supposed to be a difficult place to win this season.

"It was a big game for us," Bryant said. "We are a young team
and we had to battle back to get the win."

On the other bench, Nuggets assistant Scott Brooks fell to 0-2
in his stint as an interim replacement for George Karl, who served
the second game of a two-game suspension.

The Nuggets probably could have used Karl's expertise in this
one, to say nothing of power forward Nene, who injured his knee
Tuesday night in Denver's opener and will probably miss the rest of
the season.

Camby, Anthony and Kenyon Martin played most of the night in
foul trouble and didn't take full advantage of the matchups with
Los Angeles' less-talented frontcourt.

"It was frustrating. It was a game we should have won," Camby
said. "You have to give those guys credit."

Nobody gets more credit than Bryant.

Demanding the ball, jawing with refs, ignoring the constant boos
that rained down, he was a picture of confidence. He went 13-for-28
and also finished with five rebounds and four assists.

Surprisingly, Jackson didn't draw the final play up for him,
although Bryant said he didn't take it as an insult.

"He's done that in the past where the opposition is expecting
something," Bryant said. "He trusts me. He knows when the play
breaks down I will follow my way to the ball. He knows that."

Indeed, Bryant got the ball, got his shot and Jackson walked
away a winner in his second debut with L.A.

Game notes
The Lakers improved to 32-14 in regular-season openers. ...
Earl Watson, the guard the Nuggets gave a $29 million contract to
in the offseason, didn't play for the second straight night.