By Spencer Hirsch |Asst. Sports Editor|
The suspension of Metta World Peace, who reverted back to the Ron Artest of old last Sunday, creates uncertainty for the Lakers in their opening round playoff matchup against the Denver Nuggets.
For those who did not see it, Peace ripped his elbow into the side of Oklahoma City Thunder’s James Harden’s head.
He was ejected from the game and received a seven-game suspension from NBA Commissioner David Stern, six games of which remain, as the Lakers begin their first round series Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
The suspension puts the team’s championship aspirations in an uncertain state, at least for the first round.
First, Lakers fans are uncertain if the role and impact Peace has had on the team for the past three-and-a-half weeks will be filled by another Laker forward.
After struggling for most of the season, especially on the offensive end, Peace has been on a tear, averaging 14.1 points per game in the month of April, and shooting a solid 47.3% from the field.
Devin Ebanks, who is likely going to replace Peace in the starting lineup, is averaging just four points a game.
Second, Peace has been locked in on the defensive end of late, making great scorers look like subpar shooters.
Ebanks and Matt Barnes are solid defenders, but they do not measure up when compared to the physical presence of Peace.
Ebanks’s recent stellar defense on Kevin Durant in last week’s double-overtime victory gives Lakers fans some optimism heading into their series against the Nuggets. If Ebanks can lock down Durant, he can certainly lock down Danilo Gallinari or Arron Afflalo.
Third, it has been reported that Barnes is battling a moderate ankle sprain, or in head coach Mike Brown’s words, a “serious” injury. Either way, it seems as if his play, which is centered on hustle, will be less effective for a good portion of the series.
Putting Peace’s absence and other question marks surrounding the roster on the backburner is what is best for Lakers fans, and more importantly, Lakers’ players.
The formula for success, with or without Peace, is a simple one.
The Lakers must do five things on a consistent basis to win this series: slow down the pace, feed the bigs, dominate the boards (which we all know Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol are capable of) play the solid defense they showed most of the regular season and get the ball to Kobe in clutch situations.
It will not be easy; however, as the Nuggets are a deeper team and can put points up on the board in a hurry.
While the Nuggets have the deeper team, the Lakers have the stronger starting lineup, and the last time I checked they still have Kobe Bean Bryant, aka “The Black Mamba.”
George Karl’s Nuggets like to do one thing on offense: run. If you minimize their run game, you minimize their offensive output.
If the Lakers defense can keep the Nuggets under 100 points for four games and follow the keys to success I have laid out, they should win the series.