Once the clock hits 7:30 Saturday night it will mark Metta World Peace's return to the court in Game 7 of the Lakers-Nuggets series, the first game he's played in 20 days after serving a seven-game suspension for throwing a vicious elbow at Oklahoma City guard James Harden.
As he sat down before a handful of reporters at the Lakers' practice facility after morning shootaround Saturday, World Peace hardly sounded anxious about his return.
"I don't like to rush the time," World Peace said. "When 7:30 is here, those questions will be here."
He said those words with calmness. The Lakers expect World Peace's return, as Coach Mike Brown put it, will "provide energy and toughness." And for a series that has veered off the tracks since they took a 3-1 lead, the Lakers believe his presence alone will mark the missing link they need to at least survive another day.
Yet, there's a huge danger in the Lakers' viewing World Peace as their ace in the hole. And the Lakers forward was the first to admit it.
"It's about what we're going to do, collectively," World Peace said. "It's not about anything individual. Obviously, I was missing and I'm going to help our team. But it's going to be more about what I'm going to do individually. Whatever happens collectively, that's what's most important."
It sure is.
World Peace can help in many areas.
He says he is "one of the best defenders of all time," that he'll guard "whoever is on fire, whoever is scoring and whoever is a problem." After averaging 14 points per game in April, World Peace envisioned remaining a defensive stopper when Kobe Bryant was on the floor and pushing up his offensive game when Matt Barnes was in the lineup.
He briefly mentioned his heroic performance in Game 7 of the 2010 NBA Finals, "one of the biggest games in Lakers history" as he put it, to suggest he's prepared for big moments.
But none of these qualities mean anything if the Lakers don't feed off his energy.
The Lakers will be in trouble if Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol aren't aggressive enough in working through double teams and getting back on defense. They can't hope for Kobe Bryant's prolific scoring to bail them out of a bad performance since it hasn't happened two times already. The Nuggets relentless' double-teaming of the Big Three won't stop if role players don't knock down open shots.
World Peace's returns can't solve all those problems.
Accounts say World Peace has remained in peak conditioning during his suspension. But there's no substitute for game shape. World Peace became the team's most consistent player in April. Yet it's possible he'll press too hard or, at worst, lack the same level of engagement. World Peace vowed he'll simply "move forward" in controlling his emotions. But the fact that he still accuses Harden of running up behind him and instigating the altercation that led to his suspension shows World Peace may not fully grasp how he needs to take more responsibility for his actions.
"It's hard to say we're missing one person," World Peace said. "It's just great to be together. That's the best thing about today."