By GREG BEACHAM
LOS ANGELES — By the time Dwight Howard stepped back and oh-so-coolly hit just the second 3-pointer of his entire career in the closing seconds, it didn’t even seem weird to the Los Angeles Lakers.
With so many unlikely numbers in improbable places on that bulging scoresheet, what was one last long-distance shot for a team that finally discovered its elusive rhythm?
Antawn Jamison scored 33 points while leading an outstanding game by the Lakers’ reserves, and Howard had 28 points and 20 rebounds before hitting Los Angeles’ 17th 3-pointer to close a 122-103 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.
Jodie Meeks scored 21 points on a career high-tying seven 3-pointers for the Lakers, who improved to 3-3 under Mike D’Antoni while playing at the furious tempo favored by their new coach.
After managing just 77 points against Indiana three nights earlier in their third loss in four games, the Lakers’ dazzling offensive display suggested D’Antoni is making progress after all.
“It’s the way we want to play,” D’Antoni said. “We’ve got a lot of talent out there, and it’s got to mesh, and the ball has got to move. … So many guys had good games. I just thought the ball was moving better — just a lot of good things happening.”
Kobe Bryant had 14 points and eight assists for the Lakers, who moved the ball to the tune of 33 assists while making 54 percent of their shots. They also tied the club record for 3-pointers in a regulation game, getting five from Jamison in the first 30-point game by a Lakers reserve since Shaquille O’Neal did it in 1998.
Jamison, the high-scoring veteran who signed with Los Angeles for a shot at a title, found the shooting stroke he has lacked for much of the season so far, going 13 for 19 and grabbing 12 rebounds while taking more shots than Bryant or Howard.
“Give me some minutes, and I can make something happen,” Jamison said. “I was just able to feed off those guys looking for me. Once I do that, I get into a rhythm, and from there, they don’t know what to do.”
The Lakers’ bench has been unimpressive for two straight seasons, but Jamison and Meeks shot exceptionally well against Denver, while Chris Duhon had a strong playmaking game with eight assists and five points.
After the Lakers’ reserves managed just five points in that ugly loss to the Pacers, they produced 61 points against Denver.
Meeks and Jamison talked before the game about their meager production this season, noting neither had played a particularly strong game at home.
“I had some big games in college, but not too many games where I only missed two shots,” said Meeks, who went 7 for 9 overall and missed just one of his eight 3-point attempts. “I think everybody is more confident now. We’re at .500, so we’ve got to get over .500 and keep rolling.”
Danilo Gallinari scored 19 points and Andre Iguodala added 14 for the Nuggets, who lost three times on their three-game trip.
“After we saw what happened to them in that Indiana game, as coaches, we said: ‘Wow, now we’ve got to play them after they played so poorly against Indiana,’” Denver coach George Karl said. “I thought we fought up to a degree, but when they got it back up to 20, our gas tank was pretty empty.”
Los Angeles led 71-57 at halftime, making 60 percent of its shots in an impressive stretch of offensive basketball.
Howard controlled the first quarter with 16 points and five rebounds, while Meeks put on a shooting clinic in the second quarter, draining his first five 3-point attempts to match his highest-scoring game in his first season with Los Angeles.
“You know they’re an up-tempo team, so we had to come out with energy, but we just didn’t match their energy,” said Andre Miller, who had 10 points. “Their bench had a good game and did what they were supposed to do. They hit a lot of 3-pointers and just took off from there.”
Jamison and Meeks led a strong start to the fourth quarter while three Lakers starters rested. Jamison hit the Lakers’ 16th 3-pointer with 6:51 to play, and the Lakers rolled to the win capped by Howard’s improbable 3.
“He shoots as many 3’s after practice as a lot of us, and he’s confident,” Jamison said. “You know Dwight. He’s going to take it.”
The clubs met for the first time since the Lakers eliminated Denver in the first round of last season’s playoffs despite a lively effort by the Nuggets, who fought off elimination twice before Los Angeles won a thrilling Game 7 at home.
THUNDER 106, JAZZ 94
OKLAHOMA CITY — Kevin Durant scored 25 points, Russell Westbrook made a two-pronged bid for his sixth career triple-double and the Oklahoma City Thunder finished off an impressive homestand.
Oklahoma City won all three games by double digits and made a bid to win three in a row by at least 20 points for the first time in 25 years before a late charge by the Jazz.
Westbrook ended up with 23 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists and seven steals.
Enes Kanter scored a career-high 18 points, with 14 coming in the fourth quarter as Utah pulled within five before Oklahoma City closed it out.
Westbrook came up with two of his steals — and one of his eight turnovers — during a wild, momentum-changing stretch midway through the fourth quarter.
After his two free throws stretched Oklahoma City’s lead to seven, Westbrook swiped the ball, only for Earl Watson to steal it back, and then for Westbrook to race back up the court to get it again.
He fired a pass ahead to Kendrick Perkins, who flipped it to Durant for a two-handed slam that got the sellout crowd roaring again and the Thunder back on the path to victory.
CAVALIERS 113, HAWKS 111
ATLANTA — Alonzo Gee scored on a putback with less than 1 second remaining, and the Cavaliers snapped a four-game losing streak.
Gee rebounded a missed 3-pointer by Dion Waiters and quickly followed up with the winning shot. The Hawks, out of timeouts, couldn’t manage a shot before time expired.
Jeremy Pargo led Cleveland with 22 points, including three straight baskets late in the game. Waiters scored 21 and Anderson Varejao had 20 points and 18 rebounds for Cleveland.
Josh Smith had 25 points for Atlanta, which had won six in a row.
CELTICS 96, TRAIL BLAZERS 78
BOSTON — Jeff Green scored 19 points, Jason Terry added 17 and the Celtics cruised to a comfortable win without Rajon Rondo.
The star point guard served the first game of his two-game suspension for his role in a scuffle Wednesday night against the Brooklyn Nets. Courtney Lee started in Rondo’s place and finished with 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists.
The Celtics never trailed. They carried a 56-33 advantage into the break and took their biggest lead on a 22-foot jumper by Kevin Garnett that made it 65-38 with 8:26 left in the third quarter.
LaMarcus Aldridge had 23 points for Portland, which has lost four in a row.
NETS 98, MAGIC 86
ORLANDO, Fla. — Joe Johnson had 22 points and the Nets earned their fifth straight victory.
Gerald Wallace added 20 points, including five 3-pointers, as all five Brooklyn starters scored in double figures. The Nets beat the Magic for the third time this season and wrap up their three-game road trip in Miami on Saturday.
Glen Davis had 16 points for the Magic, who lost their third straight game.
Brooklyn center Brook Lopez missed his first game of the season with a mild right foot sprain. He is day to day.
KNICKS 108, WIZARDS 87
NEW YORK — Carmelo Anthony and JR Smith each scored 20 points, and the Knicks beat the Wizards for the 10th straight time.
Tyson Chandler and Ronnie Brewer each added 12 points for the Knicks, who improved to 6-0 at home and also beat the Wizards for the ninth straight time at Madison Square Garden. Both winning streaks are their longest active against one team.
Chandler finished with 10 rebounds but his 5-of-8 shooting represented a cold night after the NBA’s leading shooter had made 16 of 17 over his previous two games and came in shooting 71.8 percent for the season.
Jordan Crawford scored 17 points for the Wizards, who beat Portland 84-82 on Wednesday for their lone victory after a 0-12 start but were never in this game after the first 10 minutes.
76ERS 104, BOBCATS 98
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Evan Turner scored 25 points, Jason Richardson hit four 3-pointers down the stretch and the 76ers earned their third consecutive victory.
Jrue Holliday added 13 points and a career-high 15 assists for Philadelphia, which shot 51 percent from the field. Richardson had 14 of his 22 points in the final period, and Turner was 10 of 15 from the field for the game.
Philadelphia (10-6) had 54 points in the paint, most of those in the first half. Thaddeus Young had 15 points and Lavoy Allen contributed 10 points and 10 rebounds.
Ben Gordon led Charlotte with 19 points, and rookie Jeffery Taylor matched a career-high with 16 points.
The Bobcats (7-8) have dropped three straight and four of five.
GRIZZLIES 90, PISTONS 78
MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Rudy Gay had 18 points, Marc Gasol and Mike Conley added 17 apiece, and the Grizzlies stretched their winning streak to four games.
Darrell Arthur added 11 points for Memphis, while Jerryd Bayless scored 10 points. Gasol added 11 rebounds.
Greg Monroe led the Pistons with 17 points and nine rebounds, and Tayshaun Prince finished with 15. Brandon Knight added 10 for Detroit, which lost its third straight and fell to 1-9 on the road.
Memphis played without guard Tony Allen, who has a right groin sprain.
TIMBERWOLVES 95, BUCKS 85
MINNEAPOLIS — Alexey Shved scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter and Kevin Love overcame a nasty stomach bug to collect 15 points and 14 rebounds in the Timberwolves’ victory.
Nikola Pekovic had 14 points and tied a career high with 16 rebounds and J.J. Barea added 15 points and five assists for the Wolves, who are getting star guard Ricky Rubio back at practice this weekend for the first time since he tore an ACL last March.
Larry Sanders had a career-high 10 blocks to go with 10 points and 12 rebounds and Brandon Jennings had 18 points and six boards for the Bucks, who lost backup point guard Beno Udrih to a right leg injury in the fourth quarter.
RAPTORS 101, SUNS 97
TORONTO — DeMar DeRozan scored 23 points to help the Raptors stop a six-game slide.
Kyle Lowry scored 15 points, and Jose Calderon had 13 points and nine assists for the Raptors, who ended Phoenix’s seven-game winning streak in Toronto.
Marcin Gortat, Shannon Brown and Jared Dudley scored 14 points apiece for Phoenix.
It was the second straight loss for the Suns, who were routed 117-77 at Detroit on Wednesday.
PACERS 97, KINGS 92
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — David West had 31 points and 11 rebounds to help Indiana edge Sacramento.
West was 13 for 20 from the field and 5 for 7 at the line in his season-best scoring performance. He is averaging 23 points over the last five games, four of them Indiana victories.
George Hill had 25 points, eight assists and six rebounds for the Pacers, and reserve Sam Young scored 12.
DeMarcus Cousins had 19 points and 16 rebounds for the Kings, who have dropped two in a row and own the worst record in the Western Conference. Marcus Thornton scored 15 points, and reserves Jimmer Fredette and Francisco Garcia each had 12.