Lakers advance to second round with 96-87 win over Nuggets

LOS ANGELES -- See, all that drama for nothing.

Faced with a surprising elimination game on their home floor in the first round, the Lakers finally steadied themselves Saturday night -- and it was that reliable bastion of calmness and stability, Metta World Peace, i.e., Ron Artest, who helped rescue the Lakers from the Nuggets, and from themselves.

World Peace returned from a seven-game suspension for elbowing Oklahoma City's James Harden and put his defensive -- and offensive -- stamp on as important a non-Finals game as the Lakers have experienced in recent memory. Holding Danilo Gallinari to 1-for-9 shooting and chipping in 15 points of his own, World Peace helped the Lakers survive a frantic fourth quarter with a 96-87 victory over the Nuggets in Game 7 of their first-round series.

The Lakers, pushed to their limits by the Nuggets' pace and ferocity and tested by their own internal turmoil, won the series 4-3 and move on to play those same Oklahoma City Thunder in the conference semifinals. Game 1 is Monday night in Oklahoma City.

Pau Gasol, who'd given the Lakers next to nothing in their losses to Denver in Games 5 and 6, bounced back with a signature performance: 23 points on 9-for-19 shooting and 17 rebounds. Andrew Bynum, who'd added to the drama by saying "closeout games are kind of easy" before the Lakers squandered a 3-1 series lead, had 16 points and 18 rebounds.

Kobe Bryant scored 17 and eight assists after recovering from a stomach ailment that rendered him ineffective in Game 6 at Denver. Bryant had enough left to deliver the final dagger, though, a 3-pointer while falling out of bounds in the final minute. Steve Blake had 19 points, shooting 5-for-6 from 3-point range.

The Nuggets showed what a bright future they have barely a year after trading Carmelo Anthony to the Knicks, and gave the Lakers all they could handle -- and much more. Denver used its frantic pace to erase a 16-point, third-quarter deficit and lead by as many as four early in the fourth.

Ty Lawson had 24 points on 11-for-19 shooting for Denver, and Al Harrington had 24 off the bench.

The rare Game 7 in the first round for the Lakers was shrouded in tension after Lakers vice president, Hall of Famer and TV commentator said on the air Friday that coach Mike Brown would be fired if the Lakers lost Saturday. Brown brushed off the comments in his two media availabilities before the game, and he and the Lakers survive to fight another day.


 
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