Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant's injured ankle garnered most of the attention prior to Friday night's matchup with the Indiana Pacers, but the Lakers' 99-93 win over the Pacers was memorable because Bryant didn't really have much to do with it.
For only the 15th time in his 17-season career, Bryant failed to register a point after shooting 0-of-4 from the field in one quarter of duty, and the fate of the game and possibly the Lakers' momentum was left up to Bryant's teammates.
And they didn't disappoint. Steve Blake, Dwight Howard and Antawn Jamison turned in monster performances while players like Earl Clark stepped up and shone in pivotal moments.
There were also the critical contributions from the player formerly known as Ron Artest.
Howard grabbed most of the headlines with his 20-point, 12-rebound, four-block, four-assist performance, and it was hard not to notice Blake's 18 points and seven assists in his best game this season.
But there was Metta World Peace scoring 19 points of his own, while also grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out three assists in a return to his old stomping grounds.
On the defensive end World Peace was equally effective, snatching two steals and harassing Pacers forward David West into a 4-of-13 shooting performance from the field.
When praised for his defensive effort against West, the Lakers forward also gave credit to his team, which is a departure from the sound bytes that most people are used to.
In fact, some Lakers fans would argue that World Peace's greatest contribution to the Lakers this season is not becoming a distraction in a season that has been defined by them. And while the relatively even-keeled approach from World Peace is nice, he has been helping the Lakers on the court as well.
It's easy to get lost on a roster that includes three sure Hall of Famers in Bryant, Nash and Pau Gasol, and one who will probably get there as well in Howard, but World Peace has managed to make his presence felt on both ends of the floor.
World Peace's averages of 12.8 points per game and 5.3 rebounds are decent. While he is certainly not the defensive player he once was, he still averages nearly two steals per game.
Shutting down players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant is a thing of the past for World Peace, but he is still capable of playing strong defense in stretches, and nothing seems to inspire him more than when his shot is falling.
World Peace is only shooting 39.9 percent from the field this season. But in the last five games that percentage has jumped nearly two points, just like his scoring average. And the Lakers' only loss during that stretch is a 96-92 defeat to Atlanta, a game in which World Peace scored 20 points.
The Lakers can definitely use World Peace's increased scoring, especially since Bryant's status for the immediate future has yet to be determined, but his attitude and rough edge are most valuable to the Lakers right now.
World Peace has not had any James Harden moments this season, and besides a one-game suspension for an infraction against Detroit recently, World Peace has been on his best behavior. But the threat for an eruption remains, which still makes World Peace very relevant when it comes to enforcement.
World Peace doesn't perform with the grace and skill of a Bryant, Nash or Gasol, but his dirty work complements their artistry beautifully. He can't play with the strength or athleticism of Howard, but World Peace can still make opponents think twice about rough-housing his center in the paint.
If the Lakers do manage to qualify for the postseason and are able to advance once they get there, most of the credit will rightfully go to the rapidly improving Howard and the ageless Bryant. But fans should also take a second to celebrate World Peace's impact on the team.
In an ultimate turn of irony, World Peace has actually been a calming presence in a season marked by turmoil. Despite the lack of attention he has commanded this season on camera, his focus on the court has spoken volumes.
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