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Lakers' Metta World Peace is a thorn in Knicks' side

Veteran is a constant annoyance to New York stars Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, helping the Lakers win before he fouled out. 'We can't win without that kind of effort,' Steve Nash says.

December 25, 2012|By Ben Bolch
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Metta World Peace made sure it was a white Christmas for the Lakers.

Everywhere you looked inside Staples Center, there was his monochromatic white-on-white jersey.

It went chest to chest with Tyson Chandler. It rubbed up against Carmelo Anthony enough to leave a mark. It repeatedly rose off the court for putbacks and rebounds and tap-outs.

By the time World Peace fouled out late in the fourth quarter of the Lakers' 100-94 victory Tuesday afternoon, the New York Knicks were feeling snowed under by the blur of a part-time small forward who continues to come up big for the Lakers.

He may have been the first player in NBA history to earn two standing ovations during a game in which he fouled out and his counterpart scored 34 points.

Anthony may very well end up the NBA's most valuable player this season.

The Lakers are finally headed in the right direction thanks in large part to their MWP, who could rank behind only Kobe Bryant as the team's second-best player during this wackiest of seasons.

World Peace helped the Lakers post their first Christmas triumph since 2008 by finishing with 20 points, seven rebounds and one memorable mini-confrontation with Chandler in the third quarter after forcing a jump ball.

"We can't win without that kind of effort," point guard Steve Nash said.

World Peace was a whirlwind, his legs constantly moving, his arms constantly waving in Anthony's face and his effort constantly prompting one fan to hold up a cutout of the world in one hand and a giant peace sign in the other.

If World Peace's teammates don't exactly revolve around him, they at least feel a hard gravitational pull.

"This is what he's been doing the whole year," Nash said. "He pounds on their best player, maybe two, gets his hands on a lot of balls, rebounds, scores, makes threes."

World Peace also gets in so many scrapes that his memory can be as foggy as New York's Steve Novak in the fourth quarter after he took an inadvertent World Peace elbow to the head.

World Peace couldn't recall what Bryant and Nash told him after he had tried to wrestle the ball away from Chandler.

"I can't remember," World Peace said. "I got in a lot of tussles tonight."

Most of them involved Anthony, the forward who so thoroughly abused starter Darius Morris that World Peace had to check into the game after less than five minutes had elapsed.

World Peace held Anthony scoreless the rest of the quarter and frustrated the Knicks star into two quick fouls in the second quarter while jockeying for position.

Anthony got the best of the matchup in the third quarter, scoring 17 points on seven-for-nine shooting.

"I thought he would at least get warmed up before he came out and started firing," World Peace said. "He did it right away."

World Peace fired back as only he can, forcing Anthony into a turnover on an ill-advised cross-court pass and later grabbing a rebound on a missed Dwight Howard free throw to extend a Lakers possession.

He continually encouraged his teammates, even after being disqualified on a foul on Anthony with 1 minute 58 seconds left.

"Metta's been a lot, lot more vocal, helping me with the leadership and making sure guys have that intensity and attention to detail and that toughness," Bryant said.

If Pau Gasol is a gentle prodder, Bryant said, World Peace is a rigid enforcer.

"[Gasol] kind of talks to guys and gets them in the right place," Bryant said. "Metta will drag you across that line, you know what I mean? It's important for teams to have that, because it keeps everyone on edge, which is necessary to win a championship."

World Peace said he has been talking more because, unlike earlier in his Lakers career, his championship gives him room to talk.

His game has also been speaking loudly, a slimmed-down body and an occasional switch to power forward helping him nearly double his scoring average from 7.7 points per game last season to 13.9 points this season.

Now the Lakers have won five consecutive games for the first time this season, thanks largely to a player whose last name seems ironic to those who believe his frenetic play makes him more a divisive figure than a peacemaker.

"I think sometimes people view him as some madman," Howard said. "But he's awesome. I love him for this team."

ben.bolch@latimes.com

twitter.com/latbbolch

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