LOS ANGELES -- Those wildly inconsistent Lakers showed up for their Western Conference finals opener against Denver and still managed to defend their home court.
Kobe Bryant scored 40 points, including six free throws in the final 30 seconds, to lift Los Angeles to a 105-103 victory over the Nuggets on Tuesday night after the Lakers trailed most of the game.
Pau Gasol added 13 points and 14 rebounds and Derek Fisher had 13 points for the Lakers, who faced a seven-point deficit in the fourth quarter. Gasol's two free throws tied the game for the last time at 99 before Bryant went to the line, offsetting a three-pointer by Chauncey Billups and a free throw by J.R. Smith.
Carmelo Anthony scored 39 points, Billups added 18 and Kenyon Martin had 15 for the Nuggets, who hadn't played since taking care of Dallas in five games last Wednesday.
Game 2 is Thursday in Los Angeles.
Bryant, who was 9-for-9 from the line in the fourth quarter, made two for a 101-99 lead with 30 seconds left. Trevor Ariza stole the inbounds near midcourt and the Lakers were able to run the clock down to 10 seconds when Bryant made two more free throws.
Billups hit a three-pointer to get the Nuggets to 103-102 with five seconds left, but then Anthony fouled Bryant, who made his final two foul shots.
Smith made one free throw with 3.2 seconds left and missed the second intentionally. Bryant grabbed the game's last rebound.
"A good one, an important one," Bryant said of the win. "Like I told the guys in a timeout, this is a different series. We felt kind of down on ourselves with a slow start. ... I told them to forget about that, this is a different series."
The Lakers were back in action 48 hours after closing out Houston in seven games in the conference semifinals.
"We just had to push through it, we didn't come out with the kind of energy we wanted, guys were fatigued, a little tired," Bryant said. "But it was a gut check for us."
Denver led most of the game in its return to the conference finals for the first time in 24 years. But the Nuggets couldn't stop Bryant over the final 6:48, when he scored 15 points, including seven straight to help the Lakers improve to 7-1 at home in the playoffs. They are 8-0 this post-season when scoring 100 points.
Bryant got the better of Anthony, his U.S. Olympic teammate.
"It was a lot of fun, he's a bull down there," Bryant said. "I am a little out of my weight class, but I'll give it my best shot."
Neither team led by more than five points in the third quarter, when Laker starters Andrew Bynum and Ariza both picked up their fourth fouls.
The Lakers used a 9-0 run, including seven straight by Fisher, to go up 70-66. From there, though, the Nuggets ended the quarter on a 10-4 run to lead 76-74. Billups had five consecutive points, including a free throw after a technical foul on Bryant, in the spurt.
The Nuggets moved the ball well and aggressively drove the basket in taking a 13-point lead in the opening quarter, but hurt themselves by going 12 of 21 from the line in the half. Billups, who missed three free throws in the first two playoff series combined, missed his first three of the game.
The Nuggets controlled the first half, leading until the final 1:10 of the second quarter. That's when Josh Powell hit two free throws to give the Lakers their first lead.
The Nuggets went back in front before Fisher hit a three-pointer at the buzzer to send the Lakers into halftime leading 55-54. Fisher was 0-for-6 before connecting from the right baseline, which was emblematic of the Lakers' shooting woes. They hit 38 per cent from the field, with Bryant going 7 of 16.
Notes: The Nuggets fell to 2-3 on the road in the playoffs this season. ... Denver F-G Linas Kleiza played despite a fracture on the tip of his right thumb. ... Faces in the crowd included Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington, Justin Timberlake, Drew Barrymore, John Mayer, Josh Groban, Andy Garcia and figure skater Michelle Kwan.