- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 26, 2009

DENVER | The Denver Nuggets evened the Western Conference finals Monday night, beating the Los Angeles Lakers 120-101 in Game 4 despite a hobbled Carmelo Anthony.

Chauncey Billups and J.R. Smith scored 24 points and Kenyon Martin had a double-double as the Nuggets posted their eighth blowout of the postseason but first against Los Angeles following three games that came down to the final seconds.

The Nuggets didn’t need to worry about a botched inbounds pass in the closing seconds like the ones that cost them wins in Games 1 and 3, although Kobe Bryant had another monster fourth quarter in a furious attempt to put a stranglehold on the series that shifts to Los Angeles for Game 5 Wednesday night.

Bryant, who is averaging 37 points in the series, scored 34, including 14 in the fourth quarter.

He put a scare into the Nuggets and their fans until Smith hit back-to-back dagger 3-pointers for a 113-96 cushion.

Anthony finished with a hard-fought 15 points, and Martin had 13 points and 15 boards.

The game featured four technical fouls and 84 free throws, 49 by Denver.

Anthony’s shooting slump continued as he went 3-for-16 and missed his first 10 shots. Making matters worse, he turned his right ankle in the first half. At the break, he needed fluids and had his ankle retaped, then returned with a dogged determination to help the Nuggets however he could to pull even in the series.

Bryant and Pau Gasol (21 points) kept the Lakers within striking distance. The Lakers cut a 16-point deficit to 102-92 on four Bryant free throws with 3:49 left thanks to technicals on Martin and Anthony.

The Nuggets relied on a balanced attack with Anthony ailing — seven players scored in double digits — and while they still weren’t good from the floor (44 percent), they did work the ball around for better looks, attacked the lane more and got to the line. This accomplished exactly what all those misfirings couldn’t in Game 3 — energize the Pepsi Center crowd.

The Nuggets, who haven’t lost back-to-back home games all season, were coming off their first loss in the Mile High City since March 9. They knew they blew a golden opportunity 48 hours earlier by trying for the dagger and misfiring on 22 of 27 3-pointers — and after three of the conversions, they gave back a point with technical free throws, no less.

“So we were really 2-for-27,” Nuggets coach George Karl cracked before tipoff.

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