Lakers' Metta World Peace enters the game against the New Orleans… (Stephen Dunn / Getty Images )
Metta World Peace is back in the lineup for the Lakers, but he'll remain a reserve until his knee improves.
"Physically, he was limping and didn't look good last game," said Coach Mike D'Antoni of World Peace's four-point performance Wednesday against the Portland Trail Blazers. "He'll eventually be back in the starting lineup, as soon as he gets back to his normal form."
Even World Peace was surprised that he was able to return 12 days after undergoing knee surgery for torn cartilage. The Lakers forward was injured on March 25 in a road game against Golden State. He was back in the lineup on Tuesday against the New Orleans Hornets.
World Peace rushed back but is still not the same player he was before the injury.
"The first step is kind of slow," he said. "It's getting better every day."
In two appearances before Friday's game, World Peace had averaged four points and 15 minutes a night. His struggles continued against the younger, faster, athletic Golden State Warriors on Friday.
Before the Warriors game, World Peace said he was more concerned about the team winning than his individual contribution.
"The main thing we need to do at all times is move together. That's the only thing that's important. That's why we're in the situation now," said World Peace. "[D'Antoni] makes that decision. When he's ready, I have to be ready to adjust to what he feels is right."
World Peace said he isn't worried that he'll be limited once he gets his legs back.
"When people say I'm losing my athletic ability, that [doesn't make] sense because I've never been athletic," he said. "If I had to go, I can go. If I had to play my normal minutes, I could go. That's a good sign."
World Peace can opt out of the final year of his contract after this season, leaving behind $7.7 million.
He hopes coming back early will help the team, but he admitted it could hurt him individually if he doesn't play well or reinjures the knee.
"It's risky for me because it's my contract year," World Peace said. "It's 50/50."
When World Peace saw Kobe Bryant playing nearly 48 minutes a night, he knew it was worth the sacrifice.
"You've got to take some risks because who knows what's going to happen? I want to be here in June," World Peace said.
The Lakers have to get past April first.
It's Earl time
In the meantime, D'Antoni is starting Earl Clark alongside Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol.
Clark didn't put up big numbers in his previous two games starting at small forward, scoring a combined total of three points.
"As long as he keeps his energy level up and plays good defense, rebounds and runs the floor — he's good," D'Antoni said.
Eric Pincus is a Times correspondent.