Jamal Murray shined as the Los Angeles Lakers' three-game winning streak was halted by the Denver Nuggets, who won 114-106 at Crypto.com Arena.
Denver beat Los Angeles for the seventh game in a row, having swept them in the Western Conference finals last season on the way to its NBA championship success.
Anthony Davis scored 32 points and LeBron James added 25 for the Lakers but D’Angelo Russell was out injured after the team opted not to make any moves at the trade deadline.
Russell’s replacement Max Christie also suffered an injury shorty before halftime as the Lakers dropped to 27-26, while the Nuggets (36-16) have now won three straight games, and eight of their last 10.
Nikola Jokic just missed a triple-double with 24 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists, while Murray scored 29 points and Michael Porter Jr. added 27.
The Nuggets led by 15 at one stage in the second half but the game was level again at 104-104 entering the final two minutes. A 10-0 Denver run proved decisive, ending the Lakers' best winning streak since they lifted the NBA Cup in Las Vegas.
"They made shots and executed," said LeBron. "The ball always ends up in Jamal Murray's hands.
"We tied the game and twice they hit big 3s, so they made more plays offensively than us and were able to win the game.
"Very good teams have an ability to run plays late in the game that they haven't run all game and have certain packages they can go to where they can get a really good shot.
"But it makes it even more dynamic when you have a point guard and center as great as [Murray and Jokic], it definitely helps the play calls when you have those two!"
What a game from these three pic.twitter.com/FHnZfEmR3N— Denver Nuggets (@nuggets) February 9, 2024
For LeBron, who also had nine rebounds and seven assists, he was able to focus on the game despite speculation around the trade deadline and a big day which saw the emotional unveiling of Kobe Bryant’s statue.
"I went through my regular game-day routine and focused on the job at hand," he said.
"I knew coming in coming off a 12-day, six-game road trip is difficult on us, but once you get on the floor you have to lock in on an assignment. That’s all that matters.
"Our whole year so far has been about health. We haven't got to the point yet [where everyone is available]."
A busy schedule continues for Los Angeles as it hosts New Orleans on Friday, while Denver is at Sacramento next.
Davis echoed LeBron in citing health as the Lakers’ key issue, but still felt they could have won the contest.
"This is our team, who we are going to have," he said after the trade deadline passed. "Like I said, until we get guys healthy, we kind of have to get back into our groove.
"But this was a very, very winnable game and down the stretch kind of hurt us."
Nuggets coach Michael Malone was glad to see his team hold their nerve in the final moments.
He said: "What I saw in that stretch was poise on offense and executing.
"Give them [the Lakers] credit, they had all the momentum and they were attacking us, so to outscore that team 10-2 in the last few minutes, that means you’re defending at a high level and you’re rebounding."
Denver has the same record as the Minnesota Timberwolves at the top of the Western Conference, with Los Angeles in the No,9 position.