The Lakers will welcomeÂ Metta World PeaceÂ back Saturday night in various ways. CoachÂ Mike BrownÂ confirmed before practice Friday at the practice facility that World Peace would start at small forward, a predictable move that sendsÂ Devin EbanksÂ to the bench.Â Kobe Bryant, meanwhile, may hug World Peace. Â Read more after the jump.
The Lakers may have missed the versatile defensive presence as he served a seven-game suspension for an elbow to the head of Oklahoma Cityâ€™sÂ James Harden, but thatâ€™s nothing compared to how much Bryant missed the formerÂ Ron Artest, period. That was never more evident than Thursday in Denver, where the Nuggets again jumped L.A.â€™s lack of focus and energy to score an easy victory and tie the first-round series 3-3, an outcome that prompted Brown and Bryant to call outÂ Pau GasolÂ andÂ Andrew BynumÂ in particular for a poor effort.
â€œI expect him to come out and play with the tenacity that heâ€™s known for,â€ Bryant said of World Peace in the deciding Game 7 at Staples Center. â€œHeâ€™s the one guy that I can rely on night in and night out to compete, to play hard, to play with that sense of urgency and play with no fear. Iâ€™m looking forward to having that by my side again.â€
Heâ€™s the one guy I can rely on night in and night out to competeâ€¦.
Blasting at least two teammates while praising another. Precision shooting.
Friday, as he prepared to play for the first time since April 22, World Peace said little about serving the suspension, about watching teammates unable to sustain intensity, even about the praise from Bryant. Maybe he wanted a low profile to have all the focus in Game 7. Maybe he was told to say little. Just as likely, it was simply that kind of moment for a man of many moods.
On his thoughts as he returns from the discipline: â€œI donâ€™t have any thoughts on that.â€
On whether he needs to come back with extra focus since the return is in a Game 7: â€œNo. Iâ€™ve been motivated from Day 1. Thereâ€™s no extra motivation needed. Iâ€™m already at the limit.â€
On Bryantâ€™s comment: â€œThatâ€™s what he said. I donâ€™t have no comment on that.â€
On what the last seven games have been like, the first six games of the circuitous series with the Nuggets plus the regular-season finale: â€œI canâ€™t remember. Itâ€™s the past. It went by. Itâ€™s over.â€
On whether he will be under extra scrutiny by referees and the league: â€œThatâ€™s not my concern. Not at all.â€
It will be one of the Lakersâ€™ concerns, of course. They are obviously aware of the unique moment, as if facing elimination at home after blowing a 2-0 lead isnâ€™t enough. They are also aware that one of World Peaceâ€™s clutch moments with L.A. was Game 7 against the Celtics in the 2010 Finals.