Every time Metta World Peace touched the ball, the Staples Center crowd no longer gasped.
Instead, the Lakers fans stood up in excitement. In the Lakers’ 114-102 victory Friday over the Phoenix Suns, World Peace posted a season-high 22 points on seven of 14 shooting and a five of 10 clip from three-point range.
The Lakers surely expected their scoring output to increase under the Mike D’Antoni era. During his introductory press conference, D’Antoni said he expects the Lakers to score at least 110-115 points per game. But hardly anyone predicted World Peace’s scoring output to explode as the Lakers incorporated parts of D’Antoni’s offense during Bernie Bickerstaff’s fourth and final game as interim coach.
“He was just being aggressive and taking shots that were available to him,” said Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who posted a team-high 31 points on 10 of 24 shooting. “He didn’t think about it. He was catching and shooting and catching and driving.”
That’s exactly the approach D’Antoni has preached all of his players to take. For World Peace’s sake, D’Antoni said he’s given him the green light to shoot at ill from the perimeter. That thought process might seem head scratching considering he’s shot 34.8 percent from three-point range this season and he often shoots out of rhythm.
But for the most part, World Peace’s relaxed state of mind propelled him into becoming a key perimeter threat.
“The main thing is to go out and play because I don’t want to chase numbers,” said World Peace, who has averaged 12.9 points on 38.4 percent shooting in 34.8 minutes this season. “If I chase numbers, that’s really not going to be good. It could have negative consequences on the team. I just want to play hard and play smart. That’s very important for me.”
That hasn’t always gone hand in hand.
When World Peace runs fast breaks, plenty expect either a spectacular dunk or a gaffe as noticeable as a 10-car pileup. Two years ago, World Peace shot an ill-advised three-pointer in Game 5 of the Lakers’ 2010 Western Conference semifinals series against Phoenix. Instead of benching him, former Lakers coach Phil Jackson kept him in the game. World Peace, then as Ron Artest, rewarded Jackson’s loyalty by making a putback that clinched Game 5.
“Metta makes them all against us,” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “It’s been that way since the time he tipped it in the playoffs. For some reason, he shoots the ball well against us.”
In the latest matchup, World Peace accomplished that feat in numerous ways. He caught the ball in rhythm. The Lakers spaced the ball well. When he didn’t have an open three-point shot, World Peace drove into the post and scored two of his seven field goals.
Even if D’Antoni isn’t on the sideline yet, World Peace immediately recognized how his philosophies have made a difference.
“It starts with the coach and the way we play,” he said. “Every coach has different offenses and every coach is different. Tonight it was different. You don’t want to put down any style, but I believe in our coaches’ style. Everybody will have opportunities to get shots. Today was my night. Tomorrow might be somebody else’s night.”
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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org