Thanks to World Peace, Lakers move on

It is the fervent desire of Metta World Peace "to move forward."

Toward that end, mere minutes after the Lakers finished a surprisingly difficult series against the Denver Nuggets with a 96-87 Game 7 victory, he was reminded of his opponent in the next round. That would be the Oklahoma City Thunder and James Harden, whom he viciously concussed with an elbow just three weeks ago.

For his egregious lapse as a pacifist, World Peace received a seven-game playoff suspension, a meaningless regular-season date and six playoff games. Given his history (Remember? Eighty-six games for going into the stands in Auburn Hills), it makes him the World’s most under-punished ballplayer.

I considered the suspension David Stern’s make-up call, his way to compensate the Lakers for screwing them by vetoing the Chris Paul deal in December. But now it seems much more — evidence that David Stern is an even more deviously brilliant matchmaker than Vince McMahon.

The Lakers wouldn’t have won Saturday if the suspension had lasted one more game. No way they survive the Nuggets without 15 points and four steals from the former Ron Artest. No way they move forward without his defense. It’s worth noting right here that World Peace checked both the 6-foot-10 Danilo Gallinari and the 6-2 Andre Miller, who combined to shoot 2 for 19 from the field.

"He made some plays tonight that didn’t show up in the stat sheet that were absolutely fricking amazing," said Mike Brown.

Good thing for Brown — the Lakers’ prematurely embattled coach — that the suspension was lifted. If not, Denver would be playing in Oklahoma City on Monday night. That could not happen, could it? Apparently not in David Stern’s world.

Instead, the moving-forward process began as a great victory for the pregame hype, what with World Peace being asked about his reception in Oklahoma City.

"That’s not my concern," he said. "That’s their concern. In America, there’s freedom of speech. … We’re playing basketball."

Would he be shaking hands with the opposition before the game?

"I shake everybody’s hand before the game," said World Peace, who then remembered that the Thunder are not given to such pregame niceties as handshakes.

What about the Sixth Man of the Year? asked Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke. Would he seek out James Harden before the festivities?

"I don’t shake substitutes’ hands," he said.

Perhaps he’d make an exception this time? Would it be too much to grant this act of contrition?

"I never did it in my life."

There you have it, World Peace’s version of moving forward, or, put another way, still crazy after all these years.

Los Angeles and Oklahoma City represent the best possible pairing in the second round. Just the same, the craziest Laker didn’t do it all by himself. The most steadfastly rational among them had a formidable part, as well.

Pau Gasol, coming off a night that saw him shoot 1 for 10 with three rebounds, played an inspired game: 23 points, 17 rebounds, six assists, four blocked shots.

"I’m not a player who can produce three rebounds a game," said Gasol, his way of acknowledging that another lackluster effort would have diminished his legacy and probably resulted in his banishment from the kingdom of purple and gold.

If the Lakers wouldn’t have survived without Artest, they wouldn’t have survived without Gasol, either. As it was, they came awfully close to ignominy, almost becoming just the ninth NBA team to blow a 3-1 playoff lead. Worse still, they blew a 16-point third-quarter lead. With 11 minutes to play, they were down four.

A week ago, the Lakers looked like a contender. Now the Nuggets have exposed their flaws. I thought the trade for Ramon Sessions was a good one. But through seven postseason games, I’ve yet to see him play any defense. Andrew Bynum seems determined not to let three days pass without saying something preposterous. Finally, if the Lakers couldn’t run with the Nuggets, what will the Thunder do to them?

Still, on Saturday night, one possession epitomized the Lakers and their imperfect resilience. The sequence began with Gasol rebounding Bynum’s miss. Gasol put it back up and missed himself. Then he got his own rebound, put it back and missed again. And again. And again. And again. And once more. Six offensive rebounds, six shots, the last of which made the score 78-75, Los Angeles.

"I kept jumping and jumping and jumping," said Gasol. "And jumping."

And Kobe Bryant, for his part, kept passing, scoring just 17 on 16 shots (fewer attempts than he had misses in the last game). Denver’s double teams had left the Lakers with open shooters: Gasol, Steve Blake, and of course, Metta World Peace.

"If you can’t make those shots, they shouldn’t be playing," said Bryant. "They’re professionals."

And now they’re moving forward.