Lakers edge Nuggets in series decider

The Los Angeles Lakers beat Denver 96-87 on Saturday to edge the Nuggets 4-3 in their first round series and reach the Western Conference semi-finals where they will face the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Pau Gasol finished with 23 points and 17 rebounds while Andrew Bynum had 16 points and 18 rebounds for the Lakers, who are 15-1 all-time in game seven home encounters.

"We had a sense of urgency tonight," said Gasol. "I wanted to bring a better effort than I did in game six. I came out tonight and played to the fullest until the end."

Steve Blake scored 19 points and Kobe Bryant had a modest 17 points and eight assists for the Lakers. It was the first game in the series that Bryant did not lead the Lakers in scoring.

"We stayed together, we continued to fight and share the ball," said Lakers coach Mike Brown. "Our two bigs (Gasol and Bynum) were terrific. (Bynum) was all over the place."

Third-seeded Los Angeles also got 15 points from Metta World Peace in his return from a seven-game suspension.

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The Lakers advance to play the second-seeded Thunder, who have had more than a week of rest after they swept the defending champion Dallas Mavericks in four games. Game one of the second round series is on Monday.

Unlike Bryant and Gasol, who have plenty of experience in game sevens, no player on the Nuggets' roster had ever taken part in a series decider before.

Al Harrington and Ty Lawson each scored 24 points for Denver, who fell just short of their first-ever postseason series victory over the Lakers. It would have made them only the ninth NBA team to win a series after trailing 3-1.

"We gave a valiant effort in the second half," said Denver coach George Karl. "The game was so physical. Their size won over our speed. We need to get stronger to beat this kind of team."

The Lakers led by as much as 16 points in the third before the Nuggets rallied to close the quarter on a 22-7 run.

The game was tied 78-78 in the fourth quarter but then Los Angeles scored 11 of the next 13 points to seal the victory.

World Peace was back in the lineup after being slapped with a seven-game ban for elbowing Oklahoma City's James Harden in a regular season contest between the two teams.

"Metta was huge tonight," Brown said. "His presence helped out a lot. Metta made some great plays tonight that won't show up on the stat sheet. He was a monster on both ends of the floor."

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