EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – The Lakers will welcome Metta World Peace back Saturday night in various ways. Coach Mike Brown confirmed before practice Friday at the practice facility that World Peace would start at small forward, a predictable move that sends Devin Ebanks to the bench. Kobe Bryant, meanwhile, may hug World Peace.
The Lakers may have missed the versatile defensive presence as he served a seven-game suspension for an elbow to the head of Oklahoma City’s James Harden, but that’s nothing compared to how much Bryant missed the former Ron Artest, period. That was never more evident than Thursday in Denver, where the Nuggets again jumped L.A.’s lack of focus and energy to score an easy victory and tie the first-round series 3-3, an outcome that prompted Brown and Bryant to call out Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in particular for a poor effort.
“I expect him to come out and play with the tenacity that he’s known for,” Bryant said of World Peace in the deciding Game 7 at Staples Center. “He’s the one guy that I can rely on night in and night out to compete, to play hard, to play with that sense of urgency and play with no fear. I’m looking forward to having that by my side again.”
He’s the one guy I can rely on night in and night out to compete….
Blasting at least two teammates while praising another. Precision shooting.
Friday, as he prepared to play for the first time since April 22, World Peace said little about serving the suspension, about watching teammates unable to sustain intensity, even about the praise from Bryant. Maybe he wanted a low profile to have all the focus in Game 7. Maybe he was told to say little. Just as likely, it was simply that kind of moment for a man of many moods.
On his thoughts as he returns from the discipline: “I don’t have any thoughts on that.”
On whether he needs to come back with extra focus since the return is in a Game 7: “No. I’ve been motivated from Day 1. There’s no extra motivation needed. I’m already at the limit.”
On Bryant’s comment: “That’s what he said. I don’t have no comment on that.”
On what the last seven games have been like, the first six games of the circuitous series with the Nuggets plus the regular-season finale: “I can’t remember. It’s the past. It went by. It’s over.”
On whether he will be under extra scrutiny by referees and the league: “That’s not my concern. Not at all.”
It will be one of the Lakers’ concerns, of course. They are obviously aware of the unique moment, as if facing elimination at home after blowing a 2-0 lead isn’t enough. They are also aware that one of World Peace’s clutch moments with L.A. was Game 7 against the Celtics in the 2010 Finals.