Originally created 01/12/00

Bryant, Lakers on a roll



LOS ANGELES -- He soared, he swooped, he slammed home a spectacular reverse dunk, he sank a 34-footer to end the first half.

Air Kobe?

With Michael Jordan watching from a luxury suite, the Lakers' Kobe Bryant provided a personal highlight film, hitting his first eight shots and scoring 27 first-half points to start Los Angeles sailing to a 130-95 victory over Denver at Staples Center.

In the process, the Lakers ran their longest winning streak in a decade to 15 games.

One more and the Lakers will equal the 16-game streak of the 1990-91 season -- second-longest in franchise history behind the NBA-record 33-game streak of 1971-72 accomplished by the championship team led by Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West.

"I felt like I was in high school again," said Bryant, who, at 21 is only 3 1/2 years removed from his senior season at Lower Merion in Ardmore, Pa.

"I just wanted to bury them (the Nuggets). People have been playing off me, giving me a shot, and I consider that a challenge."

Bryant, who finished with 30 points on 12-of-18 shooting, was aware Jordan was in the building Monday night, but did not speak with him. Bryant also said Jordan's presence didn't inspire him to make some Jordan-esque moves.

"It just so happens that I have good games when he's here," the Lakers guard said. "He should show up more often."

Jordan, the retired Chicago superstar, has attended several Lakers games this season, and Los Angeles is coached by his former Bulls coach, Phil Jackson.

Jordan wasn't available after the game to assess Bryant's sparkling performance, but others were duly impressed.

"Kobe was unbelievable. It was just impossible for us to stop him," Denver coach Dan Issel said. "I thought a couple of times we were right under his chin and he made 3-point shots.

"When he shoots a jump shot from half-court and it goes in, you just kind of know it's his night."

The Nuggets' Antonio McDyess, who scored 23 points in the loss, said: "He was shooting the ball unconscious. He was on fire. I believe this was a big coming-out game for him."

Denver guard Nick Van Exel, formerly with the Lakers, always has believed Bryant, who came into the league out of high school, was going to be a great player.

"He's special," Van Exel said. "I played with him for a couple of years, and all along I said he was going to be someone everybody's going to want to be like one day.

"When he plays like that, he's going to be hard to stop because he's so athletic and jumps so high that he's going to get his shots off."

Bryant missed the Lakers' first 15 games with a broken right hand. Since his first start, a loss at Sacramento on Dec. 8, the Lakers are unbeaten, winning 15 straight for an NBA-best 30-5 record.

Bryant is averaging 23.2 points, 4.1 assists and 6.1 rebounds, and his play has taken some pressure off Shaquille O'Neal, allowing the big center to become even more effective in the middle.

O'Neal had 31 points, 19 rebounds, a career-high nine assists and blocked five shots in the rout of the Nuggets, the Lakers' most lopsided victory of the season and Denver's worst loss.

The victory avenged one of this season's rare losses; the Nuggets beat them 93-82 in Denver in November, while Bryant was sidelined.

"They have been playing good, man," Van Exel said. "The few games I've watched, they seem to buckle down defensively in the fourth quarter and stick with their offense, their game plan, and execute very well."

The Lakers got for 16 in a row at Milwaukee on Wednesday night. Bryant believes his team will be tested by the Bucks, who have won six straight home games.

"Milwaukee can really put points on the board," he said. "They had how many against Charlotte?" he asked referring to the Bucks' 137-87 romp over Charlotte on Monday night.

"Wow. That's crazy," he said.