The Lakers wondered if the lack of World Peace would lead to unrest.
Metta, a Buddhist term suggesting loving kindness and friendliness toward others, hardly lived up to those ideals when he threw a vicious elbow last week at Oklahoma City guard James Harden, earning himself a seven-game suspension and providing a reminder of the old Ron Artest. Prior to that, however, World Peace recently had been having a profound effect on the Lakers in the form of 14.1 points on 47.3% shooting this past month while playing consistent defense and garnering hustle points.
But the Lakers’ 103-88 Game 1 victory Sunday over the Denver Nuggets proved they’re capable of getting by without World Peace. Below are five ways the Lakers responded to the forward’s absence.
1. Devin Ebanks looked comfortable in his starting role. You can read about all the details here regarding his 12-point effort on five-of-six shooting and five rebounds in 19 minutes. But here’s the gist on how Ebanks offered a seamless transition into the starting lineup. He’s impressed Lakers Coach Mike Brown and teammates alike in that he hasn’t treated playing time as an audition but more as a chance to show he can hold down the fort. It’s a tough balance to strike, but Ebanks captures it well. He works relentlessly on his game, while understanding his primary role involves playing defense and moving off the ball. It remains to be seen how sustainable he can hold that since Denver will likely make adjustments. But Ebanks appeared more than ready in his NBA playoff debut simply by sticking to his role.
2. The Lakers couldn’t stop Danilo Gallinari. No one enjoyed World Peace’s absence more than the Nuggets forward. Despite the persistent effort from Ebanks and Matt Barnes to play physical with him, Gallinari still scored 19 points on seven-of-14 shooting. That’s a stark contrast to the combined three-of-18 clip World Peace limited him to in four regular-season games.
3. The Lakers compensated in other areas on defense. World Peace’s absence may have contributed to Gallinari scoring at a prolific rate. But the Lakers easily absorbed that by remaining solid defensively in other areas. Despite stifling double teams holding him to 10 points, Andrew Bynum logged a triple double by grabbing 13 rebounds and tying an NBA playoff record with 10 blocked shots and even breaking the team playoff record by surpassing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s nine blocks in 1977 against Golden State. Bynum’s constant defensive activity largely contributed to the Nuggets shooting 35.6% from the field, and helped Ramon Sessions on pick-and-rolls. Their constant switching helped limit point guard Ty Lawson to seven points on three-of-11 shooting.
4. Steve Blake provided outside shooting. The fans at Staples Center used to groan when World Peace hoisted three-pointers. Even during his month-long scoring surge, World Peace still left some fans with trepidation after shooting only 17.6% from three-point range in the past five contests. Blake filled that void by hitting three three-pointers in the first quarter despite battling sickness that limited him to eating only toast before the game. The effort came unexpectedly considering Blake’s tendency in playing tentatively and passing up shots. But the Lakers largely benefited from it.
5. Matt Barnes played despite nursing an injury. He hardly provided much of a scoring punch, going only one-of-six from the field But Barnes’ effectiveness mostly falls into the intangibles, such as effective swing and cross-court passes, sharp cuts and aggressive plays. He didn’t speak to reporters afterward, but his four steals and six rebounds in 30 minutes suggested the ankle injury won’t sap his aggressiveness.
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