World Peace, Lakers Up For The Challenge?
Senior NBA & College Basketball Editor
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If the first four days are any indication of what’s to come, December could be a grueling month for the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers, who lost their second-straight game on Tuesday night against the Houston Rockets on the road, are now 8-10, which puts them at 12th place in the Western Conference. They are now 1-5 on the road, where they will be for the eight of their next 12.
For the first time this season the Lakers were without Pau Gasol. Gasol joined Steve Nash (leg) and Steve Blake (abdomen) on the inactive list with knee tendinitis. He’s out indefinitely. Nash still doesn’t have a definitive timetable for his return either, and Blake won’t return for 6-8 weeks after surgery. That leaves the Lakers rotation with some big holes to fill, but they feel like the pieces are there even after coming up short against the Rockets.
“It’s not difficult,” Metta World Peace said to HOOPSWORLD. “It’s only difficult if you don’t really like challenges and on this team everyone likes challenges.”
The two players who benefited the most minutes-wise from the absence of Gasol and Nash were Jordan Hill and Chris Duhon. Both played for D’Antoni previously in New York. Duhon thrived in the system then and was solid on Tuesday night with six points, five rebounds and seven assists.
Hill on the other hand played just 10 minutes a game during his 24-game stint in New York with D’Antoni and had seen his minutes decrease since D’Antoni took over for Mike Brown. “It’s frustrating, but things get better,” Hill said before the game. By the end of it, they had for him individually.
Hill posted up nine points, nine rebounds and three blocks in 14 minutes off the bench. With a solid understanding of what his new coach wants from him, he’s hoping to regain his spot in the rotation for good.
“In this system they want me to space the floor more,” Hill said. “I’m just like the guy that stays at the block and offensive rebound. I just try to focus mainly on that, but I just got to change it up a little bit and do what I have to do.”
“Jordan’s a great player,” World Peace added. “He’s been doing it a couple years now. I’ve been playing with him so it’s nothing new to me.”
Still, despite Duhon’s solid floor game, Hill’s bounce back performance, a double-double from Dwight Howard and 39 points from Kobe Bryant, the Lakers couldn’t find a way to win. Prior to the season World Peace had talked about wanting to win 72 games, which would now require them running the table. Everyone thought they were going to look like championship contenders right out of the gate, but that process is taking longer than expected. That’s not uncommon, most championship teams take time to come together, but World Peace isn’t bothering figuring out why they’re held to a different standard.
“I don’t really try to judge people or try to influence people’s opinions,” World Peace said. “It’s a sport and people pay money to watch us play and enjoy the games. I don’t feel the need for me to try and influence people’s opinion.”
As far as the team’s potential goes once they are healthy, World Peace is optimistic. However, he’s focused solely on the days ahead without Nash, Blake and Gasol rather than thinking about how good they’ll be once they get back.
“I just let it happen because you never want to look that far ahead,” World Peace said. “You just want to win the next game. I’m just worried about the next game in New Orleans. Even some times when I’m not playing basketball I don’t like looking that far ahead. I like to enjoy my moments.”
The Lakers’ three game road trip takes them to New Orleans next and concludes in Oklahoma City Dec. 7. They’ll then return back home for a single game against the Utah Jazz before hitting the road for another four-game stretch away from STAPLES center. There’s hope that Nash and Gasol will play by then, but they’ll be coming back with a lot of work to do in order to dig the team out of the hole it’s in and get to the level they’re expected to reach. D’Antoni stressed that the team is a lot closer than the recent win-loss total would lead you to believe, but until that’s respectable nobody will truly believe progress is being made.