Lakers forward Metta World Peace connects with his left elbow to the side… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)
Just when it appeared as if the Lakers controlled the first-round series against Denver, the momentum quickly shifted.
Andrew Bynum stopped trying. Kobe Bryant couldn't produce 30-point plus performances. The Lakers' couldn't control Denver's speed. The Lakers didn't take advantage of their size.
Some Laker fans, at least the ones who tweeted or emailed me, surmised that this sudden change reflects some devious plan the Purple & Gold concocted. By extending the Lakers' first-round series against Denver, Metta World Peace would miss fewer games in the Western Conference semifinals against Oklahoma City, assuming the Lakers make it that far.
Here's the latest formula. If the Lakers end the first-round series in five games, World Peace would only miss the first game against Oklahoma City. Should the series go to six games, World Peace would make his debut in Game 1 against Oklahoma City, a little more than a week after delivering a vicious elbow that gave Thunder guard James Harden a concussion. And should this Lakers-Nuggets series go a full seven games? The Lakers will just have to hope World Peace has the same Game 7 magic as he did as Ron Artest in the 2010 NBA Finals.
I doubt the Lakers have this mind set. They lost Game 3 by becoming the Lakers teams of old by coasting through games out of boredom. Regardless, the Lakers would benefit very little by needlessly extending the series just so World Peace plays as many games as possible even if he'll be needed to guard Thunder forward Kevin Durant.
Oklahoma City just swept Dallas in its first-round series and is guaranteed rest until at least Thursday should the Lakers beat Denver in five games. The Lakers, meanwhile, will only have a two-day turnaround between series and the accumulated fatigue from playing extra games. No matter how well rested the Lakers became at the end of the season, that will quickly evaporate in the playoffs. The second round could feature a back-to-back game. And the Thunder has vastly superior speed and athleticism with Russell Westrbook, Serge Ibaka and Harden.
The Lakers surely have missed his presence. His 14.1 points per game average in April would've come in handy as Bryant, Bynum and Pau Gasol meet endless double teams. World Peace's defensive presence would've lowered Danillo Gallinari's production this series, in which he's averaged 15 points albeit on 34.9% shooting. Devin Ebanks' solid but unspectacular play and Matt Barnes' struggles with his sprained right ankle and shooting (four-of-20) show the Lakers don't have enough to fully mitigate World Peace's void left at small forward.
But that issue becomes far less important than if the Lakers lack enough energy. That factor will affect whether Bryant can punish the Thunder through relentless defense against Thabo Sefolosha and Harden. It will influence whether the Lakers will outwork the Thunder to the boards. It will determine whether the Lakers can get back in transition defense better against the Thunder than Denver.
The Lakers also can't assume that World Peace will solve all problems. Regardless of how much he's practiced and worked out during his suspension, it remains unclear if World Peace will replicate last month's consistency or lack focus as he did earlier in the season.
"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 told The Times' Mike Bresnahan 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."
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