MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - The Los Angeles Lakers' push for the playoffs just got a whole lot tougher.
Lakers forward Metta World Peace, the team's best perimeter defender, is scheduled to have surgery on Thursday to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. He'll miss a minimum of six weeks, the team announced Wednesday.
That means that even if the Lakers get into the playoffs - they're in eighth place in the West, just a game ahead of Utah and Dallas for the final spot - he'd be sidelined for at least the first round and probably more.
Losing World Peace, who had been their most durable player, was the latest in a long line of injuries for a team that started the season with championship aspirations but just hasn't been able to sustain any stretch of health or success. Dwight Howard (back and shoulder), Pau Gasol (foot), Kobe Bryant (ankle, wrist), Steve Nash (knee) and Jordan Hill (hip) have all missed significant time or had to play through injuries this season.
Now add World Peace, who is averaging 12.8 points and 5.1 rebounds and, more importantly, was the one player on the roster who could be counted on to play some tough defense on the opposing swingmen. His physical nature and never-back-down mentality was essential for a team that has often struggled on that end of the floor. Only six teams have allowed more points this season than the Lakers, who were also 15th in opponent's field goal percentage.
"I was hurt because Metta, he's been strong all year," Howard said at the team's shootaround on Wednesday morning. "He hasn't really had that many problems and then he gets hit with a serious injury. It just seems like all year when somebody comes out (off the injured list), somebody does down. So, it's kind of tough and to see Metta go down, it kind of hurt."
Coach Mike D'Antoni said Jodie Meeks would get the start in World Peace's place on Wednesday night against the Timberwolves, who have lost 21 straight to the Lakers. That means that Bryant will have to play small forward on defense, which will likely mean more wear and tear on a 34-year-old body that already has plenty of bumps and bruises.
World Peace's injury may cause Bryant to reinvent himself yet again this season. Earlier in the year when Nash was out and the Lakers were struggling to move the ball, Bryant made an effort to get his teammates more involved at the expense of his own scoring. Now Bryant, whose days as an elite on-the-ball defender appear to be waning, may have to focus more on that end of the floor to compensate for the loss of World Peace, all while playing on a badly sprained left ankle.
"Don't tell me how rough the water is. Just bring the boat in," Bryant tweeted on Wednesday afternoon. "Mambaism(equals)No excuses."
World Peace was injured in the second quarter of a game against Golden State on Monday, staying in the locker room in the second half of what turned out to be the Lakers' third straight loss.
They have 11 games remaining, including tough ones against Dallas, Memphis, the Clippers, Golden State and San Antonio.
"We just can't seem to get any traction," D'Antoni said at shootaround. "But, besides that, nobody is feeling sorry for us, and we got plenty (of talent) to win anyway. So let's just do what we're supposed to do and go out and play as hard as we can and see what happens."
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