Emergency starter Wilson Chandler had 23 points, Ty Lawson scored 22, and the Nuggets beat the Lakers 119-108 on Monday night.
Kobe Bryant had 29 points and nine assists, and Dwight Howard finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds for the Lakers, whose three-game winning streak ended.
The Lakers had won 11 of 15 to get within three games of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they couldn't overcome the youthful Nuggets despite shooting 55 percent from the field. Denver took the season series from Los Angeles, winning three in a row after dropping the first meeting with the Lakers.
The Nuggets prevailed Monday with speed. They held a 33-3 advantage in fast-break points and buried the Lakers with layups and dunks.
"The fast-break points, that's a killer," Bryant said. "That team is like a track team over there. Shots go up and those guys are already leaking out to go along with the speed. They got a lot of easy buckets because of it."
The Lakers, who stumbled the first half of the season before getting on track, were coming off a four-point win in Dallas on Sunday, but they looked as if they left their motors back in Texas. From the start, Denver pushed the pace, a tempo that was aided by 12 Lakers turnovers in the first half and by fast-breaks off defensive rebounds.
"Once they missed a shot, it was like a jailbreak," Lawson said. "Everybody was trying to get down the court and get a layup."
The Nuggets used that style to score 78 points in the paint.
Chandler, who started in place of leading scorer Danilo Gallinari, hit a layup and a 3-pointer to give Denver a 15-point lead midway through the period.
Antawn Jamison's long jumper got Los Angeles within 12, but a 3-pointer by Corey Brewer and a fast-break dunk by Andre Iguodala made it 91-73 with 3:17 left in the third quarter.
Iguodala finished with 14 points and a season-high 12 assists.
"Our running game was sensational, and we put enough defense in the game," Nuggets coach George Karl said. "Wilson was fantastic. Our bigs used their fouls in a very intelligent way. Kobe was good, but he wasn't great."
The Lakers chipped away, getting within 106-99 with 5:16 left on two Bryant baskets. However, the Nuggets responded with a 13-4 run to win their ninth straight at home.
The Lakers also hurt themselves by shooting 14-for-31 from the foul line. Howard made his first two free throws, then missed 11 of his last 12.
"We missed 17 free throws, and you get beat by 11, you can do the math, and it doesn't add up," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "You can't go 14-for-31 from the line and turn it over on the road and expect to win."
Kenneth Faried had 12 points and 10 rebounds for Denver, which improved to 24-3 at home, tied with Miami for the second-best home record in the NBA.
The Lakers shot 60 percent in the first half but still trailed by 13 at the break. Denver took advantage of 12 turnovers to put up 67 first-half points, the most Los Angeles has allowed in two quarters since the Nuggets scored 69 in the second half Dec. 26.
"We didn't come out with our legs for whatever reason," D'Antoni said. "They ran out of the starters' block and beat us down the floor. We weren't ready to come out, and we weren't ready for their speed."
NOTES: Three technical fouls were called in the first 4:33 of the game. Metta World Peace picked one up 23 seconds in, Howard got one 90 seconds later for defensive three seconds, and Karl was whistled for one with 7:27 left. ... Gallinari suffered the left thigh bruise in Friday night's loss at Washington. He played through it that night and again Saturday in Charlotte, scoring six points in each game, before sitting out Monday. "I didn't think he had the ability to create basketball plays for himself," Karl said. "He was more of a role offensive player than one who initiates offense." ... Of late, Howard is being asked to carry a heavier load in the middle for the Lakers, and he has responded. In his four games before Monday, he was averaging 20 points and 12.5 rebounds. ... Bryant is averaging 8.1 assists over his past 16 games.