Carmelo Anthony scored 25 points -- two more than the Lakers scored in the entire second half -- Kobe Bryant was held scoreless after halftime and the defending champs scored all of eight points in the third quarter of their 105-79 blowout loss to the Nuggets on Friday.
"They beat the hell out of us," Bryant said. "I don't know if we had Pau it would have made any difference. They played extremely well."
The Lakers figured the Nuggets were up for this game after losing to L.A. in the Western Conference finals, and 'Melo acknowledged that was certainly on everybody's minds in Denver.
"It's a big, big win for us," Anthony said. "I know it's early ... but it's hard not to get excited for a game like this. Hopefully, it sends a big message, not only to the Lakers, but to the whole NBA. We're a legit team."
Lakers coach Phil Jackson had talked before tip-off about finally having the muscle to match up with 'Melo in Ron Artest, suggesting he might be able to defend him straight up, 1-on-1.
Anthony, limited by foul trouble in the first half, scored 18 points in the second, finishing with 25 in 29 minutes before taking a courtside seat and enjoying the rest of the rout, which included 5-foot-11 Ty Lawson's dunk on 7-footer D.J. Mbenga and 6-9 forward Josh Powell, the highlight of the evening.
"I don't really think it's possible to have a 'Melo stopper," Anthony said. "No team in the NBA will just let me play 1-on-1 against them. They just won't do it."
The Lakers' six-game winning streak was snapped, and it all came down to the third quarter, when the Nuggets turned a two-point halftime lead into an 87-64 cushion with a 29-8 run that had ecstatic fans chanting "Beat L.A.!" - something Denver couldn't do enough of in the Western Conference finals five months ago.
"To hold a team like that to eight points in the third quarter? We did something incredible that third quarter," Anthony said.
The eight points tied a Nuggets record for fewest points allowed in a single quarter, and it was just two shy of tying the Lakers' mark for futility in a single quarter. They scored just six points in a quarter against Chicago in 1977.
"No one stepped up in the second half and played ball," Jackson said. "We ended up taking long shots and turning the ball over at the start of the third quarter. Those are the results you get."
Bryant was held scoreless in a half for the first time since the first half of a game at Sacramento on April 11, 2004.
Limited by foul trouble in the first half, Anthony scored 10 quick points in the third quarter to give the Nuggets (7-3) a double-digit lead and turn this one into a laugher.
'Melo's run was highlighted by his steal from Lamar Odom and a breakaway basket. After that, the Lakers (7-2) looked every bit like the team that was coming off a late game in Los Angeles the night before.
J.R. Smith came off Denver's bench again and scored 20 points in his third game back from a seven-game suspension to start the season.
Andrew Bynum and Bryant each scored 19 points to lead the Lakers, who sat their starters in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach. Artest scored 11.
While so much was made in the offseason of how the Lakers augmented their championship resume with the signing of Artest, the Nuggets quietly improved their versatility and offense with the additions of Aaron Afflalo and Lawson and the subtractions of Dahntay Jones and Linas Kleiza.
Many preseason prognosticators painted the Nuggets' run to the Western Conference finals as an aberration, but Jackson wasn't among them. He said the Lakers view the Nuggets as bona fide challengers in the West.
"There's no doubt that we consider the team among the three or four [top] teams in the Western Conference," Jackson said before tip-off.
He was even more impressed with them after the game.
"They were great today," Jackson said.
- Bynum had 15 rebounds.
- The Nuggets were without backup PG Anthony Carter, whose chronic strained left hip prevented him from suiting up. He's day to day.
- Phil Jackson likes LeBron James' idea of NBA players giving up No. 23 to honor Michael Jordan. The Los Angeles Lakers coach who won six titles with Jordan in Chicago compared the idea to the NHL's retirement of No. 99 to honor hockey great Wayne Gretzky in 2000.