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Bynum back as Lakers top Nuggets

THE Los Angeles Lakers welcomed back starting center Andrew Bynum in a 116-102 triumph over the visiting Denver Nuggets on Thursday.

Bynum, who missed 32 games with a knee injury, scored 16 points and made seven rebounds to support the game-high 33 points from Kobe Bryant as the Lakers won their fifth successive game.

"I have no concerns, no pain. Everything is feeling good right now," Bynum told reporters after playing 21 minutes.

"My timing is really bad, I missed a couple of easy rebounds and gimmies under the basket.

"The more minutes I get the more comfortable I'll be, and I think everything will work out."

Carmelo Anthony scored 23 points while J.R. Smith added 19 for the Nuggets (53-27), who had their eight-game winning streak snapped. Denver still holds a 1-1/2 game lead over the Houston Rockets for second place in the Western Conference. The Rockets eased past the Sacramento Kings 115-98.

In the day's other National Basketball Association game, the Chicago Bulls closed in on a playoff spot by downing the Philadelphia 76ers 113-79.

In Los Angeles, the game was locked at 56-56 at halftime before Bryant and Pau Gasol combined for seven points during a 12-0 run that gave the Lakers an 82-69 advantage with 3:38 remaining in the third quarter.

Gasol finished with 27 points and a game-high 19 rebounds while the Lakers' bench contributed 32 points.

Los Angeles (63-16) moved within half a game of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the NBA's best record.

"It's good to have him back," Bryant said of Bynum's return. "Being out for a while some of his shots around the basket were off but that's going to be there.

"In the second half he got the catches in the paint and was shooting his jump hook."

In Sacramento, California, a big third quarter by Houston delivered victory over Sacramento, giving the Rockets first place in the Southwest Division.

Ron Artest scored 26 points for Houston, who trailed by five at halftime but dominated the third quarter, taking an 11-point lead that never dipped back into single digits in the fourth.

The Kings dropped their sixth straight. With the NBA's worst record at 16-62, Sacramento is on track to have its worst finish in franchise history.

In Chicago, Ben Gordon and Tyrus Thomas each scored 24 points for the Bulls, who now need only one more win or the Charlotte Bobcats to have one more loss to wrap up a spot in the playoffs.

Chicago also moved half a game ahead of Detroit in the East.

Thomas set a season-high for points while converting a career-best 14 of 14 free throws. He scored 10 points in the third quarter and Gordon added seven as the Bulls turned a halftime tie into an 82-72 lead before pulling away for their 13th home win in 14 games.

The loss was the third straight for Philadelphia, which is already assured of a playoff spot.


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