Tomorrow’s story tonight …
Their numbers have been mediocre at best and appalling at worst, but the Lakers said they wouldn’t be where they are without fill-ins Devin Ebanks and Matt Barnes. They wouldn’t have a chance to eliminate the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday without them.
Metta World Peace won’t play in what looms as a decisive Game 5 at Staples Center, sitting out the fifth game of a seven-game suspension for cracking James Harden of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the head with an elbow April 22.
The Lakers might have missed World Peace’s defensive tenacity and his resurgent offensive game at times during their Western Conference quarterfinal series against the Nuggets. The series might not have reached a Game 5 if he hadn’t been banned.
But the Lakers still hold a commanding 3-1 lead over the Nuggets, and the small forward position has been the least of their worries in their tune-up for a much-anticipated conference semifinal against the Thunder.
The Lakers’ only loss to the Nuggets, a clunker in Game 3 on Friday, wasn’t about offense or defense. It was about getting outrebounded by the energetic Nuggets and a poor start from center Andrew Bynum, who made amends in Game 4.
Ebanks filled in capably for World Peace (the former Ron Artest) in Game 1, scoring 12 points on 5-for-6 shooting. It’s been pretty much downhill for him ever since, if you look strictly at the statistics. He’s averaging five points and 4.3 rebounds.
Barnes’ hustle has been difficult to miss and is welcomed by Lakers coaches and players alike, but his poor shooting touch has been impossible to ignore, too. Barnes is averaging 3.5 points on 15.4 percent shooting (4 of 26) while serving as Ebanks’ backup.
“Oh, they’ve done a fantastic job,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said of Ebanks and Barnes. “Ebanks has really stepped up and proved his worth. When Metta gets back, I’m sure we’ll utilize him a great deal.”
Lakers coach Mike Brown bristled when asked if Ebanks and Barnes had “done enough” in the absence of World Peace, who averaged only 7.7 points during the regular season but scored in double figures in nine of his final 10 games.
“What’s your definition of enough?” Brown asked a reporter. “Does enough mean we’re up 3-1? Or does enough mean you’re looking strictly at their stats and trying to compare them to LeBron James’ stats at small forward?
“We’re up 3-1, so for me, we’ve gotten enough.”