As has been the case all season long, the Los Angeles Lakers will have to make some adjustments on the fly. This time, they'll be tweaking a few things in an effort to survive without Metta World Peace, who'll miss the remainder of the regular season with a torn meniscus.
With one MWP-free game already under their belts—a 113-103 loss to the similarly dysfunctional, but substantially healthier Milwaukee Bucks—coach Mike D'Antoni has already given a pretty good indication of what he'll do without his starting small forward.
Here's a rundown of the changes we've already seen, and a few more that are likely on the way.
Jodie Meeks: Starter
It has come to this: Jodie Meeks is going to start (and probably play a whole lot) for the Lakers.
Against the Bucks on March 28, Meeks joined the starting unit and logged a hearty 39 minutes. He shot 4-of-12 from the field, 1-of-6 from long range and posted just 11 points on the night.
So, things could have gone a little better for Meeks.
But with MWP out, the Lakers are sure to utilize Meeks a ton in the season's remaining games. Particularly against opposing teams that employ smaller lineups, Meeks makes the most sense for L.A. He shoots the long ball at a 36.5 percent clip, which constitutes a slight upgrade over World Peace's season mark of 34.7 percent.
That's one difference that favors L.A.'s new rotation player, but unfortunately he shares World Peace's low overall accuracy rate and inexplicable inability to finish in transition. Meeks takes everything to the hole with gusto on the break, but he tends to suffer from tunnel vision and rarely converts tough chances on the fly.
Meeks' insertion into the starting lineup means Kobe Bryant will likely slide over to the small forward spot, and Antawn Jamison and Earl Clark will see a slight uptick in their minutes off the bench.
Otherwise, L.A.'s rotation won't change much, as D'Antoni has effectively banished every other bench player not named Steve Blake from consideration for playing time.
The Game Plan Remains the Same
L.A. is still going to be a team that relies on its stars on offense. MWP was essentially a last resort from a scoring perspective, hoisting up more than half of his shots as a broken play finisher from beyond the arc.
In that sense, Meeks might represent a slight upgrade over World Peace.
But defensively, L.A. is in for a mixed bag. While the more frequent use of a three-guard lineup should theoretically help the Lakers get back in transition more effectively, the presence of three smaller perimeter defenders might make the team's half-court D even worse.
It bears repeating that that last bit of analysis is purely theoretical. In practice, the Lakers don't appear to be showing any signs of stopping the opposition in the half court or in transition. Milwaukee ran right past L.A. on the break and had no trouble whatsoever getting into the lane when the game slowed down.
If the contest against the Bucks is any indication, the Lakers' best tactical move might be to slow the action down as much as possible. That seems counter-intuitive with a smaller lineup, but with the way Meeks failed to find his man in scattered situations, it might be best to try to limit the opposition's transition chances as much as possible.
Speaking of counter-intuitive, the absence of L.A.'s best individual perimeter defender might actually improve the team's overall stopping power.
Think about it; the very worst part of Bryant's game this year has been his abject failure as a help defender. He's disinterested, too eager too gamble and apparently unconcerned with maintaining any sort of organized scheme. Watch him completely ignore a rolling Festus Ezeli here.
But now that he's the one who'll be matched up on the opposing team's best wing player, his role as a helper won't be nearly as critical in team defense. And actually, Bryant is still a decent on-ball defender when he wants to be.
So, instead of hiding on an inferior assignment and not helping out or rotating effectively, Bryant will now have to face the prospect of being individually embarrassed on D if he doesn't show some effort. In an odd way, MWP's absence really could benefit the Lakers' defense.
As with all things Lakers, everything contained herein is contingent on the team's health. And with the way things were looking after the game against the Bucks, a lot could change in a hurry.
Stay tuned, as the Lakers' ongoing parade of injuries could very easily mean that the team will be searching for a way to survive without World Peace...and a few more critical pieces.