MIAMI — The Lakers signed Metta World Peace in 2009 because they wanted a big body to take on the NBA’s elite forwards.
Five years and $34 million worth of lockdown defense against LeBron James. Paul Pierce. A rapidly developing Kevin Durant.
It didn’t happen Sunday. Not even close.
James left World Peace flatfooted throughout the Miami Heat’s 107-97 victory, scoring 32 points on 12-for-18 shooting and regularly blowing by World Peace on isolation plays.
It was especially obvious toward the end of the third quarter.
In a close game at the time, James burst past World Peace for a three-point play. Then he blew past him for a four-point play, in a sense: James was fouled, then missed the second free throw but drilled a three-pointer with 2.6 seconds left in the quarter after Shane Battier quickly got the rebound out to him.
There wasn’t much Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni could say.
“Well, he struggled against LeBron James, so I don’t know if that’s struggling,” he said. “But, uh, I don’t know what to make of it.”
World Peace, 33, also had a bad game on offense, continuing a long shooting slump. He had nine points on three-for-11 shooting, the 17th consecutive game he failed to make more than half his shots.
One by one, the Lakers lined up and said immensely flattering things about James.
“He’s just playing exceptional basketball,” Kobe Bryant said.
“He’s out of this world,” Steve Nash said.
World Peace wasn’t overly complimentary afterward, other than saying James was a “smart player.”
“You’ve got to give credit to everybody,” World Peace said. “You’ve got to give credit to the shooters on his team. You’ve got to give credit to coaches drawing up great plays. You’ve got to give credit to the screen-and-rolls that they set. It’s all about the team. It’s not about one individual.”
But what if that individual is averaging 35.5 points in two games against the Lakers while shooting a sublime 67%? And averaging seven rebounds, six assists and three steals in the two victories?
“I’m like four or five years before my career’s over. I compliment after my career’s over,” said World Peace, who has one more year and $7.7 million left on his Lakers contract.
“We’re actually trying to win a championship this year. When my career’s over, I’ll give praise to guys who dominated that I stopped and guys that had good games against me. Right now it’s just not appropriate for me to judge anybody positive or negative.”
The closest World Peace came to complimenting James was a couple of days before the game.
“He’s definitely strong,” World Peace said, trying to find the right metaphor. “He reminds me of a more athletic me.”