In a Los Angeles Lakers season that has seen more than its share of dramatic ups and downs, the latest injury to Metta World Peace could, surprisingly, be the reason LA ultimately falls short of a postseason berth.
According to the Orange County Register's Kevin Ding:
It really shouldn't be the case that the absence of the Lakers' fifth-most heralded starter could have such a profound impact on the team's fate, but the combination of poor timing and the glaring lack of adequate backups makes MWP's injury profoundly significant.
The timing aspect is obvious—the Lakers have 11 games left to hang on to the one-game advantage they have over the struggling Utah Jazz and the surprisingly still-relevant Dallas Mavericks. Any significant injury at this juncture means more than it otherwise would.
Just as critically, though, LA simply doesn't have a passable substitute for the collective contributions that World Peace provides.
The numbers show MWP to be a 34.7 percent three-point shooter and a highly suspect decision maker on offense. On the season, he has registered just 106 assists against 98 turnovers. But mediocre shooting and sketchy ball-handling aside, World Peace does stretch the floor with a more accurate stroke from the corners.
Plus, he has a knack for procuring a sneaky steal or hauling in an offensive board at just the right moment.
On defense, he's nowhere near the lockdown stopper he once was, but MWP still often handles the opposing team's best perimeter threat so Kobe Bryant can save his legs.
The players likely to absorb the minutes freed up by MWP's injury all leave the Lakers highly vulnerable in an area in which World Peace made the team at least adequate. That might seem like damning with faint praise, but it's the best way to explain how World Peace's absence potentially hurts the Lakers a little bit in a lot of areas.
It's really tempting to simply argue that World Peace's injury shouldn't matter because the Lakers still have a chance to suddenly make some kind of massive leap on the strength of their reputed talent. But at what point does it become foolish to keep assuming that Bryant and Dwight Howard will magically start committing on the defensive end, that the team will finally establish some kind of offensive chemistry and that Pau Gasol will magically start fitting in?
The truth is that most recent signs, especially as they pertain to defense, have been pointing to a more pessimistic direction.
The Houston Rockets have created enough distance between themselves and the Lakers to avoid inclusion in the new conversation about which team will end up in the eighth spot in the West. And while it's hard to envision the reeling Utah Jazz outplaying a diminished LA team down the stretch, it's not so difficult to see the Mavericks making up the one-game difference between them and the Lakers, sans MWP.
Ultimately, the significance of Metta World Peace's injury is a statement on the wholly disappointing nature of the Lakers' season. LA was supposed to be a juggernaut—a high-scoring, defensively sound outfit that was sure to compete for the conference's No. 1 seed and league title.
Instead, an injury to its fifth-best starter could mean missing out on the playoffs.