All preseason, Metta World Peace predicted he'd drop double-digit efforts as a sixth man. His eyes lit up when Lakers Coach Mike Brown informed him he'd have a stronger leadership role by coming off the bench.
Except, not many, really believed him. Especially when he admitted arriving to training camp overweight. World Peace's zero-of-eight shooting effort in his first preseason game and his four points on two of six shooting in the Lakers' season opener against Chicago only heightened those concerns.
Out of nowhere, however, World Peace became the Lakers' lone highlight in their 100-91 loss Monday to the Sacramento Kings. His 19 points on eight of 14 shooting, four rebounds and four assists reflected his best statistical outing since scoring 24 in a Feb. 23 regular-season game last season against Portland. It also provided a blueprint on what World Peace's bench role should entail. But can he sustain it?
"One thing about Ron is as crazy as he seems, he does a very good job policing himself in terms of where he is physically," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said before the season started. "He's very honest about that. That makes our job easier."
That hardly was the case a week ago. He shot eight of 21 in two preseason games (19%), looked out of shape shape and hardly directed the bench unit one bit.
"I just said, 'Hey Metta, if you're going to shoot that much, you've got to make them,' " Lakers Coach Mike Brown said. "He said it was just taking him a little bit of time to get a rhythm coming off the bench, which I understand and I respect. I have faith in him."
Don't ask World Peace for much insight. He said he couldn't recall such a conversation and only spouted out cliches in a recent interview about "playing team ball." But that took on a new meaning against the Kings. World Peace suddenly appeared more engaged, and it had nothing to do with him scoring points. It had everything to do with how he scored them.
Insead of settling for three-point shots, all eight of his field-goals came in the post. His first basket happened after he cut through the lane and converted off a feed from Josh McRoberts. His second happened when he snuck in the lane and converted on an offensive putback. His next three field-goals all came through operating the post, and well, you get the idea.
The Lakers' front office held off on exercising his three-year, $21.5 million deal through the amnesty clause, perhaps hopeful he could provide one last spark. But it's presumptuous World Peace's play against Sacramento will become the norm rather than the exception because of his declining abilities. For a player whose shooting often remains flimsy, however, World Peace has no other choice but to view his recent effort as a model to duplicate.
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Photo: Lakers forward Metta World Peace, right, tries to keep the ball away fromClippers forward Caron Butler, left, and guard Chris Paul during last week's exhibition game at Staples Center. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / December 21, 2011 )