Below are five things the Lakers lacked because of Metta World Peace's seven-game suspension.
1. Defense. Of course, World Peace would've provided better defense against Danilo Gallinari than Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks. Gallinari's 14.6-point average came on 41.1% shooting and none of his performances played a significant factor in the Nuggets' losses.
The Lakers instead missed World Peace the most on defense because of his versatility. With Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol lacking enough intensity to guard JaVale McGee and Kenneth Faried, the Lakers could've opted for World Peace to stop them on a few possessions. With Andre Miller too big for Steve Blake, Lakers Coach Mike Brown would've been more comfortable throwing in World Peace for the assignment.
Brown was limited in his defensive adjustments. He could've ensured better than Jordan Hill remained in the mix in stopping McGee and Faried. Brown also could've chosen Bryant, Barnes and Ebanks to split defensive duties on Gallinari and Miller when the two Nuggets were on the court together. But World Peace's presence would've given the Lakers more flexibility without having to shuffle multiple combinations to cover their defensive lapses.
2. Reliable outside shooting. Usually the fans at Staples Center gasped when World Peace launched an open three-pointer or jump shot. They didn't so in April, though, when World Peace averaged 14.1 points on 47.3% shooting. The Lakers showed in their first-round series against Denver that their success and failure hinged on reliable outside shooting. Steve Blake made three consecutive three-pointers, while Devin Ebanks scored 12 points in Game 1. Both Blake and Ramon Sessions hit two late-game three-pointers to win Game 4. But in the last two games, the Lakers have shot a combined 10-of-39 from the field.
Had World Peace been in the lineup, he would've done two things. He would've negated the three-of-24 clip Barnes shot from three-point range. World Peace would've also fielded wide-open shots because Denver would've remained more concerned with containing Bynum, Gasol and Kobe Bryant in the post. But World Peace would've been more likely to make those open shots, or eventually force the Nuggets to extend out on the perimeter and free up more room for the front line to operate.
3. Another post presence. His offense also flourished before his suspension because he relentlessly drove to the basket and posted up. According to Synergy Sports Technology, World Peace has ranked 68th and 69th overall on shots coming from the post (42.4%) and on cuts (70.8%). His post-work by no means matches what he's done in previous years, but it remained reliable enough that the Nuggets would've had to ensure enough front line help to limit him. When World Peace drove to the basket, that also often freed up Bynum and Gasol for open looks.
4. Matt Barnes may have given his ankle more time to heal. It's possible Brown would've felt more comfortable limiting Barnes' playing time to allow Barnes' ankle to heal. The Lakers hardly had that luxury with Devin Ebanks, who mostly stayed in his lane without making too much of an impression.
Barnes still looked sound enough to provide energy and hustle plays. Who knows to what degree his bum ankle has contributed to his shooting woes since he remains a streaky outside shooter anyway. But with his revelation to The Times last week that his ankle feels 75% to 78%, getting some extra rest wouldn't have hurt.
5. The Lakers still should've been able to win without World Peace. The team's disastrous 113-96 Game 6 loss to the Nuggets suddenly left Bryant waxing nostalgic about World Peace's return.
"He's the one guy that I can rely on night in and night out to compete and play hard and play with that sense of urgency and no fear," Bryant told reporters. "I'm looking forward to having that by my side again."
Yep, World Peace definitely has stayed engaged lately. No Laker ever downplayed his absence, but no one fretted too much either as the Lakers stormed out to a 3-1 series lead. Simply put, had Bynum and Gasol actually played hard in the last two games, the Lakers would be preparing for a Western Conference semifinals matchup against Oklahoma City.
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