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Bynum's big return sends Lakers by Nuggets

LOS ANGELES -- Andrew Bynum provided the Los Angeles Lakers with a powerful performance in his season debut, following a four-game suspension that carried over from the playoffs.

It all would have been for naught, however, had it not been for some clutch shooting in the fourth quarter by Kobe Bryant and a couple of equally critical hustle plays by Derek Fisher and Pau Gasol in the final minutes.

Bynum scored 29 points on 13 for 18 shooting and grabbed 13 rebounds, leading the Lakers to a 92-89 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Saturday. The 7-foot center played 31 1/2 grueling minutes, helping the Lakers win their third straight following their first 0-2 start since 2002-03.

"They were looking for me a lot. I was a focal point early in the offense, so I knew the quicker I got down the court, the better it was," said Bynum, who made four of his first five shots and finished the first quarter with 10 points. "I was winded like crazy. I couldn't breathe in the first six minutes. Defensively, getting back and all those things require me to be in better condition. So it's going to take a little while."

Bynum was suspended without pay for the first four games because of a flagrant foul against Dallas' J.J. Barea in Game Four of the Western Conference semifinals. The original ban was five games, but was reduced Dec. 23 as a result of a shortened schedule caused by the lockout.

"I really didn't have the highest expectations," said the seven-year veteran, who totaled 41 points and 23 rebounds in two preseason games against the Clippers. "I just wanted to come out and be aggressive. I wanted to get it down low, and when I got it, I made shots."

Bryant, bogged down by foul trouble, had 17 points along with nine assists and 10 rebounds. The Lakers overcame 2-for-24 shooting from three-point range.

Reserve forward Al Harrington had 21 points for the Nuggets, who have lost 25 of their last 29 road games against the Lakers.

"The game of basketball treats you badly sometimes," Denver coach George Karl said. "No one feels very good right now. They hurt us rebounding the ball and they hurt us with Bynum's power underneath the basket. They're very good at playing an aggressive style of disrupting you"

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Around the rim

*Kevin Martin scored 27 points, Kyle Lowry matched a career high with 18 assists and the Houston Rockets led from start to finish in a 95-84 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.

*Jonas Jerebko had 20 points and 12 rebounds, and Detroit ended Lawrence Frank's 20-game losing streak by beating Indiana, 96-88.

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