World Peace Helps Lakers Advance

While the Lakers “bigs” got all the credit from ESPN and the major media outlets Saturday for stepping up in a 96-87 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Game 7, it’s clear defense was the difference.

Specifically Ron Artest, or Metta World Peace, who completely shut down whoever he was guarding Saturday in his return from a seven-game suspension.

World Peace also did plenty of damage at the offense end, scoring 15 points and hitting four big threes in the Laker victory.

Steve Blake, who struggled at the defensive end, made up for his lack of D with a playoff career-high 19 points.

Kobe Bryant played a more passive role, getting his teammates involved with 17 points and eight assists.

Pau Gasol also came to play at both ends, fishing with 23 points, 17 rebounds and six assists. But after the game, he gave the credit to the return of World Peace at the Staples Center.

“(Metta) had a great impact,” Gasol told TNT afterward. “Metta does a great job. He just gets into guys. He forces things. He makes things happen for us on the defensive end.”

While Denver’s guards blew past Blake and the Lakers front line for much of the night (Ty Lawson scored 24 points, Arron Afflalo had 15), typical go-to’s such as Danilo Gallinari and Andre Miller struggled against World Peace. Gallinari was 1-9 from the floor, finishing with three points and four turnovers. Miller was 1-10, finishing with three points and five turnovers.

Arguably the difference in the series for Denver, Miller’s only field goal came against, you guessed it, the Lakers “bigs.” The 6-foot-2 Miller upfaked Gasol and then scored over the slacking, 7-foot Bynum to cut the the Lakers lead to 78-77 with 6:51 to go … a play ESPN.com’s headline writers obviously missed.

“It’s defense, defense,” World Peace said. “It’s the little things you can’t really see. … It’s about the intangibles that I bring to the table.”

Especially when it comes to the NBA playoffs, and a team with aging super stars that don’t have the defensive presence they once had.

A year ago, Tyson Chandler converted Dallas from a soft, aging team of offensive-minded veterans, into a scrappy, gritty defensive squad that suffocated LeBron James and the Miami Heat to win their first NBA title.

This year, with Chandler gone (he still won the Defensive Player of the Year award), the Mavs are already gone from the playoffs.

Same thing for the Lakers. With Metta World Peace, the Lakers have a chip on their shoulder and play a suffocating defense that translates into team basketball at the offensive end as well.

Without him, the Lakers get pushed to seven games by a Denver Nuggets team that’s void of a superstar.

Luckily for the Lakers, they get World Peace back just in time for their showdown with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Artest’s old friend James Harden. And while Harden – who suffered a concussion courtesy an Artest elbow the last time these two teams played – will certainly be looking for some revenge, you know the Thunder will be thinking twice about taking it right at World Peace this time around.

It’ll be interesting to see how Mike Brown sets the matchups heading into the second round, but it appears he’s finally starting to realize just how important World Peace is to the Lakers’ success.

“Obviously, we all played well, but I’d be remissed if I did not talk about Metta,” Brown said in the postgame press conference. “He was huge tonight. … His presence helped out a lot. I didn’t realize Miller and Gallinari were a combined 2-19. That is our team defense, but Metta had a lot to do with that.

“I mean, he made plays tonight that won’t show up in the stat sheet that were absolutely, freaking amazing for us defensively.”

Pivotal Game 7 For Lakers, Bryant

Tonight the 16-time NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers will seek to avoid a first round playoff exit at the hand of the Denver Nuggets.

After a Game 6 loss in which Kobe Bryant (playing with stomach ailment) couldn’t pull a Michael Jordan, the boys in yellow and purple have their back against the wall and are going up against a very confident Denver team.

Denver had all the momentum in this series, but after being down 3-1, the Nuggets have come roaring back into this series.

This has been one of the better playoff series in recent memory and everyone seems a bit anxious for this highly anticipated Game 7, even George Karl, the Nuggets veteran head coach.

“I’m nervous already,” Karl said Friday before the Nuggets caught another flight to Los Angeles. “I am 61-years-old and I haven’t been nervous for a game this early in a long time.”

Denver’s Ty Lawson has been the key in this series. The former North Carolina Tar Heel has been using his immense quickness to drive into the lane and get the Lakers’ big men in foul trouble. Lawson had 32 points and six assists in the Nuggets Game 6 win on Thursday night.

Danilo Gallinari has been a nightmare for the Lakers once vaunted defense. Look for Lawson and Gallinari to step their games up to a whole new level tonight.

Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol can’t stop Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee. These are facts that are hard to dispute. As long as McGee learns to use his head once in awhile, it shouldn’t be any different in Game 7. Gasol is soft and he doesn’t take to contact well. For the Nuggets to be successful in this game they will need exploit the Lakers every weakness.

If the Lakers two big men do decide to stand their ground then the Lake show should have no trouble advancing. However, if the rest of this series is any indication, that is a very big if.

Some good news for the Lakers, however, as Metta World Peace, formerly known as Ron Artest, will be starting tonight. World Peace missed the first six games of this series due to a suspension for an elbow to the head of Thunder guard James Harden.

That’s the good news, the great news is that they still have a man on their team named Kobe Bryant. Arguably the most clutch player in NBA history, a five time NBA champion. If anybody knows how to win it’s Bryant as he is 4 and 1 in his illustrious career in Game 7′s.