The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the New Orleans Pelicans Tuesday night, 108-96, in the final home game of the season. This was the Lakers fifth win in a row, a feat they last accomplished in 2011. The team was short-handed for this contest, as D’Angelo Russell returned home to be with his family following his grandmother’s passing.
The Pelicans were playing without stars Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, so it figured that the purple and gold had a good chance to come away with a victory. A number of players made solid contributions, but the night belonged to Metta World Peace who may have played his final game as a Laker at Staples Center. The fans showed their appreciation for World Peace, and on this night he did not disappoint.
Although the Pelicans were missing their two stars, after the Lakers’ long season in which they’ve lost 55 times, a win is a win and should not be discounted. Here are three takeaways from the game.
1. Metta World Peace Played His Final Home Game for the Lakers . . . Maybe
World Peace’s career was thought to be over three years ago, but inexplicably he returned to Los Angeles where he has been on the roster the past two seasons. If it was a surprise that he made the team in 2015-16, it was a shock when he did it again this year.
Then, there were questions about whether he would be cut at the All Star break to create a place on the roster for a young player from the D-League to get a short audition, but the team stuck with him to the end.
Until the last few games, World Peace had played sparingly, or not at all, and when he was on the court it was not pretty. He turned back the clock in this last game, however, leading the team in scoring with 18 points, all in the second half, to the delight of the fans in attendance.
World Peace is completing his 17th NBA season, sixth as a member of the Lakers. It was very controversial when the Lakers allowed a young Trevor Ariza to leave in free agency to make room for an older World Peace, but he was instrumental in helping the team win its last NBA title in 2010. He was dropped after the 2012-13 season but returned two seasons later.
Except perhaps in his first season with the team, World Peace was never the player with the Lakers that he was earlier in his career. Still, with the fans, he is unquestionably one of the most popular Laker players of the past decade and they showed their appreciation Tuesday night.
2. David Nwaba Made A Strong Statement in this Game
Nwaba was reassigned recently to play with the L.A. D’Fenders for their D-League playoff run. He kept returning to suit up for the Lakers as well but has not been playing. Tuesday night, he saw his first NBA action in a while and seamlessly continued where he left off.
Nwaba played 28 minutes and scored 14 points on 6-8 shooting from the field and 2-2 from the free throw line. He also had two rebounds, a steal, and an assist. But what really sets Nwaba apart from his teammates is that he plays ferocious defense.
Nwaba has done everything he could possibly do to impress the Lakers brass since he was signed mid-season to a 10-day contract. He has not only played significant minutes, but he did so in key stretches of big games and more than held his own. Rarely does a D-League player get called up mid-season and play better than what Nwaba has shown.
3. Several Lakers On the Bubble for Next Season Played Hard
Tarik Black, Thomas Robinson, and Tyler Ennis are all being evaluated for a position on next year’s Lakers’ squad. Their future with this franchise is up in the air, but all three did their very best and have played hard and effectively down the stretch.
The truth is, the recent five-game winning streak is as much a product of their energetic play as it is attributable to any other factor.
Last night’s game is a perfect example. The starters got off to a slow start and fell behind. Enter Black, Robinson, Ennis, Nwaba and Corey Brewer, and the Lakers soon took the lead which they did not relinquish.
Ennis did not play one of his best games but still ran the offense smoothly and played good defense. Tarik Black contributed nine rebounds and was also strong defensively. Robinson finished with 10 points and 5 rebounds in 14 minutes, which has become a normal stat line for him. He brings an element of toughness which the team lacks when he is not on the floor.
It is anyone’s guess whether any or all of these second unit players will return in the fall. But in a season where the starters often lacked energy and focus, these men deserve credit for playing with maximum effort every game since they were put together in the same unit for the final stretch of the season.