Getty Images | Mark Ralston

Derek Fisher received the ball late in the fourth quarter, with the shot clock down to the last few seconds. He threw up a long, and contested three but hit nothing but backboard and rim. The ball bounced back and who should race after it but Denver’s young point guard, Ty Lawson and the Lakers’ resident senior, Derek Fisher. With just under three minutes left in the game and his team down by two points, Fisher dove for the rebound, secured the ball and called timeout. The Laker co-captain may be 37 years old and playing in his 16th year in the league, but hustle and determination know no age, and Fisher is a master at both.

The Lakers rode that play by their determined leader and got through the last few minutes of a sluggish game because of incredible contribution from Andrew Bynum. Back after serving a 4-game suspension after a cheap shot at Dallas guard J.J. Barea in last season’s second round elimination game, Bynum returned rather winded after six minutes of floor time, but managed to dominate the game to help the Lakers end 2011 with a victory.

Metta World Peace and lack of bench contribution – After two games in a row of successful play, Metta World Peace turned in an 0-8 from the field, 4-turnover sort of game in almost 20 minutes of playing time. World Peace was clearly on the slow end of the system today, unable to complete layups and tossed up questionable attempts from around the hoop. Steve Blake, Josh McRoberts and Jason Kapono contributed just 16 points on a combined 7-18 shooting, which wasn’t much compared to the Nuggets’ bench, who put in 39 points, led by Al Harrington’s 21. On the bright side, however, McRoberts had six rebounds and a steal and Blake handed out six assists, and both played scrappy defense. McRoberts slapped the ball away from Al Harrington in the fourth quarter, causing Denver a shot clock violation.
Turnovers – This area has been a real issue for the Lakers this season, today giving away the ball 19 times.
3-point shooting – Matt Barnes and Jason Kapono had the only two makes from behind the arc for the Lakers in 24 attempts. The three-ball is a very hot-cold stat for this team and they’re fortunate to have dependable frontcourt production.
Free throw disparity – The Denver Nuggets shot 22 free throws to the Lakers’ 15. The Lakers didn’t shoot a single free throw for the entire third quarter, which is not surprising considering their 24 attempts so far away from the basket. Andrew Bynum actually might’ve been cheated out of a few freebies considering how much work he did inside and how often the Denver defense collapsed on him. He only got three free throw attempts for the entire game…

Andrew Bynum – …which didn’t matter because he went 13-18 from the field for his 29 points and he grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked two shots for a balanced game. Bynum anticipated being out of game shape after having to miss the Lakers’ first four contests. This was evident when he had to sub out after playing just six minutes into the first quarter. Bynum played through it, though and got almost 32 minutes of floor time. Bynum may have been winded, and often, but it scarcely affected his footwork, his lift or his reflexes. He pivoted around Denver center Mozgov to get in prime scoring position with ease. He blocked Nene on one end and sprinted across to receive a pass from Kobe Bryant for a layup. If this is how Bynum plays when he feels he’s not properly conditioned, it’s hard to imagine what more he can do when he’s got a few more games under his belt.
Pau Gasol – Not to be overlooked was the efficiency of Bynum’s fellow 7-footer. Gasol had 17 points on 7-10 shooting, and hit 3 of 4 from the free throw line. His work on the glass could do with more effort. He had just five rebounds today, but that Bynum had 13 boards and Bryant had 10, it’s possible Gasol did more clean-up than actively working the boards. The Lakers outrebounded the Nuggets 50-36.
Kobe Bryant – The Denver defense against Bryant has been the same for years – double team. And his response to this defense is always just as straightforward – pass the ball. Bryant had handed out five assists before scoring his first points on three straight baskets. Though he forced some shots (6-18 from the field), he still managed17 points, grabbed 10 rebounds, and was one assist shy of a triple-double with nine dimes.

The Lakers were not as efficient on offense today as they have been the past two games. Maybe it was an adjustment having Andrew Bynum back in the line-up, or they could have just had an off day. Their defense wasn’t its sharpest either, but they still held Denver to fewer than 50% shooting (43%). Yes, the Lakers were one Derek Fisher rebound, not to mention one Gallinari missed layup away from a possible overtime or straight-up loss. But like the philosophy of today’s holiday preaches, the past is the past. Why look back on what could have been, when we can enjoy the victory of now instead?

It’s been an eventful 2011 for the Lakers. The last season may not have ended in their favor, but it’s a good thing they’ve got a chance to start over. That’s what a new season and the New Year are about, after all. So here’s a toast to new beginnings for the Purple & Gold. May 2012 be a banner year!

Happy New Year, Laker Nation!

Box Score