Forwards Metta World Peace of the Lakers and Al Harrington of the Nuggets…
A long memory isn't required to figure out why Metta World Peace became a main story line for the Western Conference semifinals.
He was hit with a seven-game suspension for elbowing Oklahoma City guard James Harden in the head three weeks ago. The Lakers begin the semifinals Monday at the home of the Thunder.
"It'll be ironic. I assume that the fans won't love it," World Peace told The Times in a quiet moment before Game 7. "People can say what they want, but that's going to the most entertainment Oklahoma City has had since they've been Oklahoma City.
"But for me it's just work. I'm not even really worried about what they think. They have Derek Fisher in that locker room. Whether that [elbowing] happened or not, they would come in with some focus."
Would Fisher put in a good word for World Peace, his former teammate for two-plus seasons?
"No. I wouldn't," World Peace said. "If I'm not on your team, I'm not on your team."
World Peace has not spoken to Harden since elbowing him in the second quarter of the Lakers' 114-106 double-overtime victory April 22.
He didn't expect to greet him before the game.
"He doesn't start. I only fist-bump the starting five," World Peace said. "I don't fist-bump subs."
World Peace returned Saturday for Game 7 against the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center, his reappearance affecting almost everybody before tipoff.
Nuggets Coach George Karl gave it a thumbs down, saying World Peace should have been out the entire first round without the chance to be the "savior of a team."
The Lakers, of course, opened their arms to him, Matt Barnes even interrupting World Peace's interview with reporters Saturday morning by calling out, "Welcome back, Ron."
It's a minor gaffe to address World Peace by his former name, Ron Artest, but the Lakers definitely missed his defensive presence.
"He's going to make a big difference," Lakers center Andrew Bynum predicted beforehand. "We'll have a different dynamic."
World Peace had 15 points and five rebounds in the Lakers' 96-87 series-clinching victory over the Nuggets. The ovation he received from Lakers fans during pregame introductions might have been the loudest among the starters.
"I think I've been in the spotlight a long time just for my personality," he said. "When I got to L.A., I said if we don't win a championship, blame me. So it came all the way down to Game 7 [against Boston in 2010] and the spotlight was on me and everybody [said], 'If we don't win, we're going to blame you.' And I had one of the biggest games of Lakers history."
Indeed, World Peace had 20 points, five steals and a huge three-pointer with 1:01 left in that game. The Lakers beat the Celtics, 83-79, to win their 16th NBA championship.
After a slow start this season, World Peace had a stellar April and was on his way to a solid game against the Thunder until being ejected with 12 points,
five rebounds and three steals.
It was a bit of a rush to thrust him in the starting lineup Saturday. It paid off.
"A player as talented as he is and what he brings to their team on both ends of the floor, I don't think it can hurt having him out there," said Fisher, a teammate of World Peace's for 21/2 seasons. "He's another guy that they can use to facilitate the game offensively. So I don't think there's any question that they miss him."