Nick Van Exel spoiled Kobe Bryant's return to the Los Angeles Lakers' lineup.
Van Exel hit a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 37 seconds remaining and iced the game with eight straight free throws as the Denver Nuggets overcame 38 points by Bryant for a 107-101 victory Wednesday night.
"I've said this a dozen times. When the game's on the line, there's not anybody else I'd rather have the ball than Nick," Nuggets coach Dan Issel said.
Bryant, who returned after missing three games with a sprained right ankle, hit 16 of 28 shots, but missed an uncontested 3-pointer after Van Exel put Denver ahead for good, 99-96.
"Whew! It was kind of scary," Denver's Antonio McDyess said. "I'd rather have Shaq try to shoot the free throws than Kobe trying to hit that 3. We kind of escaped when he missed."
After Bryant's miss, Van Exel hit two free throws with 30 seconds left. The Lakers got as close as 103-101 in the final 17 seconds, but lost for just the third time in 12 games as Van Exel kept converting free throws.
In other NBA games, it was Philadelphia 79, Miami 69; Indiana 99, Milwaukee 86; Toronto 95, Atlanta 88; Charlotte 91, New Jersey 88; Minnesota 111, Detroit 100; Houston 95, Chicago 78; Utah 101, Vancouver 83; Orlando 97, Phoenix 91; and Sacramento 122, Golden State 101.
McDyess added 14 points and 16 rebounds to help the Nuggets end Los Angeles' four-game winning streak. Denver had lost 11 of 14.
Van Exel finished with 27 points and had 11 assists, and Raef LaFrentz had 19 points.
Shaquille O'Neal finished with 23 points and 11 rebounds. He and Bryant combined for 26 straight points for the Lakers during a 15:45 span of the third and fourth quarters.
"I was driving on it pretty good, but the pain was still there," Bryant said. "I sucked the pain up. I can play through it. The pain was as bad as it was going to get."
76ers 79, Heat 69
Dikembe Mutombo grabbed 18 rebounds, blocked five shots and altered countless others, more than making up for another poor shooting night from Allen Iverson.
Philadelphia beat visiting Miami for the third time this season as Mutombo forced Heat center Brian Grant to shoot 1-for-13 and forward Anthony Mason to go 1-for-8.
Iverson attempted 27 shots and missed 21 but still finished with 27 points as he went 14-for-18 from the line.
Pacers 99, Bucks 86
Reggie Miller scored 24 points and Jalen Rose had 16 points and 12 assists as Indiana found its shooting touch at home.
The Pacers, who hit just 34 percent in Monday's loss at Charlotte, sank 40 of 71 field goals (56.3 percent) to build leads as large as 25 points in the third quarter.
Hornets 91, Nets 88
Jamal Mashburn overcame a horrendous shooting night by scoring 10 of his 23 points in the final 1:51 to lift host Charlotte to its fifth straight victory.
David Wesley led Charlotte with 26 points. Stephon Marbury led the Nets with 19 points.
Raptors 95, Hawks 88
Vince Carter scored 32 points and Antonio Davis added 18 points and 15 rebounds in Toronto's victory at Atlanta.
The Raptors, who never trailed, won their third straight as Carter topped 30 points for the fifth time in six games.
Jason Terry scored 22 points for the Hawks, who lost their fifth straight.
Rockets 95, Bulls 78
Steve Francis scored 21 points and Hakeem Olajuwon added 17 as Houston won at Chicago.
Reserve Kenny Thomas had 14 points and 11 rebounds for the Rockets, who have won five of six and finished February 9-4.
Elton Brand scored 21 points to lead the Bulls, who have lost five of six.
Jazz 101, Grizzlies 83
Karl Malone scored 21 points and Olden Polynice had a season-high 15 on 7-of-9 shooting as Utah won at home.
Magic 97, Suns 91
Tracy McGrady nearly had his first career triple-double and Darrell Armstrong scored four crucial points in the final 1:21 as visiting Orlando snapped Phoenix's four-game winning streak.
Kings 122, Warriors 101
Predrag Stojakovic scored 24 points as Sacramento set a record for road wins in a season.
Lawrence Funderburke added 18 points as the Kings won their second straight and fifth in the last six. The victory was also their 15th on the road this season.
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