Coming into this first-round playoff series against the Denver Nuggets, two players that had to step it up right out of the gate for the Los Angeles Lakers were Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks. With Metta World Peace unavailable for the first six games of the first round due to the seven-game suspension given by the NBA, Barnes and Ebanks had to shouldering the load at the small forward position.
Before smashing James Harden’s face with a vicious elbow, World Peace was playing at a high level once again on both ends of the floor. The veteran forward’s play was so impressive in the second half of the season that he seemed to have turned back the clock and reminded fans of the glory days of Ron Artest.
Unfortunately, along with playing like the Artest of old, the same fiery attitude on the floor came with it. After one ill-advised decision on the floor, World Peace put the Lakers’ coaching staff in a tough situation with Barnes and Ebanks being their only options at small forward position.
Barnes played well in the second half of the season, much like World Peace, but has yet to make real impact in the NBA playoffs. In the first four games of the first-round series, Barnes has shot a pitiful 23.1 percent (6-of-26) from the floor and 28.6 percent from beyond the arc (1-for-14).
Ebanks on the other hand has played slightly better shooting the basketball with an efficient Game 1 performance in which he went 5-for-6 from the field. Unfortunately, the hot shooting from the up-and-coming didn’t continue as with Ebanks only hitting four out of 14 shots in the last three games.
Despite the poor play of both Barnes and Ebanks in the last four games, Lakers Coach Mike Brown is content with the play of his small forwards in place of World Peace via Ben Bolch of L.A. Times:
“They’ve done enough for us, whether it’s rebounding, defending [Danilo] Gallinari, helping us in transition or whatever; they’ve done enough to help us get to a point where we’re 3-1 right now,” Brown said.
With the Lakers on the verge of closing out the Nuggets tonight at the Staples Center in Game 5, there’s little concern at the small forward position with just two games left before the return of World Peace. There’s no question that the Lakers need to get their starting small forward back on the floor, but at least it hasn’t derailed the team’s chances of advancing to the second round and contending for a 17th NBA title.