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Lakers beat Nuggets, clinch finals berth

THE visiting Los Angeles Lakers are heading back to the NBA finals after dispatching the Denver Nuggets with a 119-92 victory in Game 6 yesterday, clinching the Western Conference finals 4-2.

Kobe Bryant got 35 points and 10 assists for the Lakers, who are headed to their record 30th NBA finals and are seeking their 15th title, and with a chance to make up for last season's finals loss to Boston.

"Now we're in a place where we didn't get the job accomplished last year," said Bryant. "Hopefully we will this time."

Instead of cruising through the West this time, the Lakers survived an arduous seven-game semifinal series against Houston and a physical test against Denver, and will appreciate some pre-finals rest, having played every other day for two weeks.

"It's been a physical march all the way back to the finals, every series has been tough," Bryant said.

The Lakers will face either Orlando or Cleveland in the finals. The Magic lead 3-2 and can clinch the Eastern Conference finals today at home in Game 6 and prevent the Kobe Bryant-LeBron James showdown that has basketball fans excited.

The finals begin Thursday, at Los Angeles if Orlando wins, and at Cleveland if the Cavaliers prevail.

Carmelo Anthony led the Nuggets with 25 points and J.R. Smith added 24, but Denver trailed for all but a few seconds and never mounted a serious charge after halftime, although they kept hitting 3-pointers.

This was the Nuggets' eighth consecutive loss in a playoff elimination game.

For the Lakers, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol both scored 20 points and Trevor Ariza had 17, and they made all 24 of their free throws.

"We are really tough to beat because we're using all our weapons, not focusing on Kobe or myself," said Gasol, who had 12 rebounds and six assists. "We have a really good team and need to use everybody. That is how we are going to win it."

Bryant scored 11 points in a decisive 21-7 stretch that gave the Lakers a 53-40 halftime lead, and took the buzz out of the Denver crowd.

"We had the effort and the execution to match," Bryant said. "It took us a while to really get a feel for the team, just how to take advantage of the defense. We saw something how they were playing us and we executed extremely well."

The Nuggets trimmed their deficit to 79-67 but the Lakers replied with a 9-0 run to restore their stranglehold. Bryant scored seven straight points, including a 3-pointer that made it 101-82.

The Nuggets stole Game 2 in Los Angeles, but they quickly gave the homecourt edge back on a botched inbounds in Game 3 that cost them their first loss at the Pepsi Center since March 9.

After winning 16 straight games at home, the Nuggets lost two of three there in their first trip to the conference finals in 24 years.


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