The Los Angeles Lakers are tied 3-3 in the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs with the Denver Nuggets, and the only good thing about that means the return of Metta World Peace.
Metta World Peace has officially served his seven game suspension for elbowing Oklahoma City Thunder’s Sixth Man of the Year, James Harden. After the Lakers took Game 1 in dominant fashion, the Nuggets came back in Game 2 and seemed to find some flaws in the Lakers defense. Despite the 104-100 loss, the Nuggets returned home and took it to the Lakers in Game 3. The Lakers responded in Game 4 to get the victory, but they had to come from behind to do so. Then in Games 5 and 6, the heart, effort, and determination was nowhere to be found.
Heart, effort, energy, and determination are where the Lakers have struggled in the last two games of the series; something that Metta never leaves in the locker room. Say what you will about Metta’s offensive play, he never steps onto a basketball court without giving it his all. He hustles for loose balls, grabs rebounds, plays great defense, and can bring a spark at any point in a game.
His offense did pick up ever since Kobe Bryant missed six games while resting his injured shin, and regardless of not playing since April 22nd, hopefully his offensive improvement will not disappear. With his unusual size and strength, there is no guard/small forward who can match his physicality in the post. With the disappearance of both Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, Metta will provide a fourth post presence in the starting lineup, with Kobe being the fourth. Also, he is never afraid to shoot the basketball. It does not matter if he has missed his last 10 shots, if he is open, he will shoot.
The Lakers’ guards have been very hesitant to shoot the three ball, and this is a major reason why Bynum and Gasol have been non-factors. The lack of confidence the guards have shown shooting from the outside allows the Nuggets’ defenders to disrespect it completely. As a result of this, the Nuggets’ are able to get away with double-teaming the post every time the ball goes inside. Since Metta will not pass up an open shot, he will hit enough to make the defense commit to him, opening up the post play.
Defensively, the Lakers miss him more than ever. The rebounding needs to clean up on the defensive end, but what has hurt them the most is the post play from Denver’s Danilo Gallinari and veteran point guard Andre Miller. Both these players will be useless in the post against the strength Metta World Peace has. As a former NBA Defensive Player of the Year, Metta is a key component to the Lakers success of the defensive end. He rotates well and is always in the right help position; he contests every shot, and he has lightening quick hands that force steals and/or deflected passes. Just ask Kobe Bryant how good of a defender Metta is one-on-one.
The one concern about Metta World Peace’s play will be the referees. After throwing a vicious elbow that connected to the head of James Harden, how closely will the refs be watching and calling plays against him in fear of another outbreak? Will a normal hard foul committed by Metta be overreacted to, to the point where they award him either a flagrant-one foul, the player fouled will get two shots and his team keeps the ball, or a flagrant-two foul, the same as a one but Metta is ejected from the game?
Regardless of how tight the refs are calling fouls against him, he must keep his head. Playing with emotion/passion/fire is great and totally needed, especially in the playoffs, but losing your head and committing dumb fouls, or playing angry, or complaining to the refs will not help at all.
Game 7 is tonight in Los Angeles at the Staples Center. Metta World Peace should be welcomed back with open arms and provide the Lakers with a spark from the tip just like Ty Lawson did for the Nuggets in Game 6. If the Lakers do not come out and play with heart, they will loose, and be embarrassed for a second straight early playoff exit. The Denver Nuggets have found confidence in their play and believe they can win this series; it is up to the Lakers to go out and take it from them because it will not be handed to them.