For Denver, a big win and big dunk

DENVER -- The Denver Nuggets zoomed past “statement” and went directly to “historical accomplishment.” They held the Los Angeles Lakers to 23 points after intermission, L.A.’s lowest-scoring half in franchise history, in the process of dismantling the champions, 105-79.

That’ll get people’s attention.

“Hopefully it sends a big message, not just to the Lakers but to the whole NBA,” Carmelo Anthony said. “We’re a legit team.”

“The more you win, the more people start talking about you. That’s all we can do each and every day, man is get better. If we compete like we did today, people have no choice but to start respecting you.”

They’ve won seven of their first 10, an even better mark when you realize they’ve played only three home games so far.

But before we go any further…

“How ‘bout that dunk?” Chauncey Billups said. “Let’s talk about that dunk.”

It was more a symbolic than a defining moment. Denver’s damage had long been inflicted, but the 5-foot-11 rookie Ty Lawson threw down the jam of the night over 7-foot Lakers reserve center D.J. Mbenga. Lawson hasn’t even pulled off a feat like that in practice yet.

“I say, ‘Next time, I’m going to dunk on you. Or Kenyon [Martin],’” Lawson said. “But they don’t take me seriously. ‘Ahh, shut up, rookie.’ But I’ve proven I can dunk.”

Memo to Nene, Kenyon, Mbenga and everyone else: take Lawson seriously. He had 13 points and six assists Friday and that’s becoming standard for him.

Take the Nuggets seriously, too.

It’s not too often you’ll see a team hold the Lakers to eight points in the third quarter, or keep Kobe Bryant scoreless in the second half. “It was a great game by them,” Bryant said. “They played extremely well defensively. They got after us. They beat us, period.”

It was almost as if the Nuggets coaches gathered the team around a TV monitor, watched the video of the Lakers pulverizing the Suns to the tune of 78 points in the paint and said, “Don’t let that happen to you.” So the Nuggets did everything they could to avoid it. Arron Afflalo didn’t buy Kobe’s pump fakes, the Nuggets sent second defenders at Bryant in the post and didn’t worry about where the free man wandered off to. They bottled up the middle and harassed Andrew Bynum, who still managed 19 points and 15 rebounds but never set the tone in this game.

Every interior shot was contested, every rebound was fought for. But a two-point game at halftime quickly disintegrated in the third quarter, when the Nuggets outscored the Lakers 29-8. The Nuggets came up with five steals, J.R. Smith knocked down a couple of three-pointers on his way to a 20-point night and the blowout began.

You could point out that the Lakers didn’t have Pau Gasol (hamstring), or that they were playing on the second night of a back-to-back, but it wouldn’t do justice to the totality of Denver’s performance. It certainly won’t take away from the significance the Nuggets place on it.

“Big, big win for us,” said Anthony, who scored a game-high 25 points. “ I know it’s early, I told you [before] it’s one game on the schedule, but it’s hard not to get excited for a game like this.”