Move over Dwight Howard. Your teammates just assigned Metta World Peace your nickname. That’s because Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said World Peace will come off the bench and play for about 20 minutes when the Lakers host the New Orleans Hornets tonight at Staples Center.
“I heard Superman,” Lakers forward Earl Clark said. “Metta is a strong person. He’s strong minded. I know he takes care of his body. He eats things I can’t pronounce or even look at. I know he’s healthy, strong minded and ready to go.”
The Lakers will have to wait on that with Steve Nash, who will miss his fourth consecutive game because of hamstring and hip soreness. Though Nash plans to travel with the Lakers Wednesday to Portland, D’Antoni said Nash remains “doubtful” to return then.
But back to World Peace. Howard hardly took offense to the new nickname.
“I didn’t come up with Superman, I won’t get upset. I would say Weapon X, that would be a good one for Metta,” Howard said. “I’m happy he’s back. I’m happy he’s getting healthy. It will be good to have him on the floor. Only he knows when he’s ready to play, and he says he’s ready to play.”
World Peace didn’t speak to reporters following morning shootaround at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. But he told this newspaper Sunday night that he remained highly confident he could play Tuesday, even proclaiming he could’ve even played in the Lakers’ loss that night to the Clippers.
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said he couldn’t help but chuckle when he first heard World Peace would return so quickly considering the team believed 12 days ago World Peace would stay sidelined for at least six weeks. D’Antoni conceded he felt skeptical until Lakers trainer Gary Vitti told him the same thing.
“He was banging on Gary more than anything else,” D’Antoni said. “He said I’m more than ready. I’ve been ready five days ago. Now I’m more than ready.”
Not that any of this surprises the Lakers.
“I kind of knew it. I come here to shoot every night. So one day, maybe two days ago, I’m leaving and I see Metta come in and I’m like, ‘Are you about to get a workout in?’” Clark recalled. “I don’t know if I even should be seeing this. I don’t know if Gary and them know. But he was in, he was fine. He wasn’t limping or nothing. He was just going through his normal routine.”
The news gives the Lakers some jolt of energy after everything else has created a mostly somber locker room. The Lakers (40-37) trail the Utah Jazz (41-37) by half a game for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference with five games remaining.
World Peace’s return helps the Lakers in a variety of ways.
One, it gives the Lakers an extra body after fielding a seven-man rotation during his absence. Meanwhile, Kobe Bryant has averaged 46.25 minutes the past four games.
“It depends on how the game goes a little bit,” D’Antoni said, “but he’ll give us some good minutes in the sense we’ll be able to rest Kobe and rest some other guys.”
World Peace will also give defensive support to Howard, who repeatedly has been left on an island. Still, Howard didn’t want to put too much pressure on him.
“We’re not going to put it on Metta to play defense on the perimeter,” Howard said. “We got to play as a team and communicate. The games we’ve won, our defense has been great. Everybody’s in the paint, everybody’s cracking back once I help. The defense has been great. We can’t just put in on two people. It has to be the whole team.”
And as they fight for their playoff lives, the Lakers simply appreciate World Peace returning to help.
“It’s easy for him to pack it in,” Clark said. “He’s a veteran and has done everything he’s supposed to do in his career. He wants to help hsit eamamtes out even if it’s just 10 minutes to help us win. That’s definitely big for our team.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org