Lakers closer to return of Metta World Peace

DENVER — The Lakers lost Game 3 but weren’t total losers.

JaVale McGee was the best big man on the court and Kobe Bryant couldn’t hit a shot, but the Lakers moved closer to getting back Metta World Peace from his seven-game suspension.

If the first round ended in five games, World Peace would miss one more game. If it goes six, he’s back for the Western Conference semifinals. If it goes seven…the Lakers would rather not think about that.

They wanted the chance at a sweep against the Denver Nuggets, which became impossible thanks to their surprisingly languid 99-84 loss Friday.

“Even though we want [World Peace] back as soon as possible, if there’s more games, guys are liable to get hurt, it’s more minutes for them running up and down the court,” point guard Ramon Sessions said before Friday’s game. “If we sweep them, we get more rest. With the playoffs, you’ve got to get the wins where you can get them.”

Game 4 is Sunday at Pepsi Center. Game 5 is Tuesday at Staples Center.

“Not being mean, I don’t really think about the Metta situation because I can’t,” Lakers Coach Mike Brown said. “It’s not in my control.”

World Peace made the trip to Denver with the team and took part in Friday morning’s shoot-around. He played defense while Matt Barnes took extra shots afterward. Then World Peace took some shots himself.

He was not allowed at the arena for the actual game, as per NBA rules.

“Metta’s still part of the team,” Brown said. “He gave some valuable input that I actually talked to the team about in the shoot-around. He’s trying to be part of this as best he can. He’s heavily involved with watching the game and trying to give his opinion on different things to different individuals.”

He’s also the guy assigned to stop Kevin Durant if the Lakers and Oklahoma City meet in the next round. The first two games of that series would be at Oklahoma City.

World Peace averaged 16.3 points during the seven games Bryant missed and was on his way to another strong game against Oklahoma City when he was tossed for elbowing James Harden in the head.

Not enough improvement

Andrew Bynum tied for fourth in the voting for the NBA’s most improved player, receiving 13 of 121 first-place votes by media members.

Orlando power forward Ryan Anderson won the award, followed by Milwaukee power forward Ersan Ilyasova and Minnesota center Nikola Pekovic.

Detroit center Greg Monroe tied Bynum.

Voters favored players who were virtual unknowns until this season instead of a relatively recognized player who had a break-out season.

Anderson had career highs with 16.1 points and 7.7 rebounds a game in his third season. Bynum averaged 18.7 points and 11.8 rebounds for the Lakers and made the All-Star team for the first time in his seven-year career.

“I thought he had a heck of a season compared to last season,” Brown said. “Obviously you want our guy to win, but I don’t know what the voters saw. I thought he improved dramatically from last year. He had a lot of added responsibility, I think, this year compared to previous years. We played through him at times. We demanded a lot of him at both ends of the floor.”