- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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Since signing with the Lakers he’s changed his jersey number his name, but Metta World Peace hasn’t been able to change the fact that he’s declining as a player.
After an impressive performance in the Lakers’ 96-91 win over the Clippers on Wednesday, World Peace at least wanted to change the narrative of why his play has been slipping.
“The defense, I got to bring it back,” World Peace said after practice Thursday, a day after putting up three points, seven assists, five rebounds, two steals and a block while playing a season-high 38 minutes. “I got bored with defense because it was so easy for me to stop people over the years. I got real bored with it. When you’re playing against guys and you’re stopping guys every single time, what else are you going to do [but get bored]? It caught up to me, but this year I’m doing better. This year I’m almost back to where I want to be.”
As wild as his premise might sound (“bored” could explain why he changed his name from Ron Artest, however), Kobe Bryant actually agreed with World Peace’s logic.
“I can relate to that,” Bryant said. “That’s happened to me before as well. That’s human nature sometimes. You have to have [and] you have to find challenges that kind of get you going and keep your energy.
“It’s about finding your edge. You have to find your edge. It’s not something that’s farfetched. He was a great defensive player. Things sometimes become too easy. Offensively, things for me get really, really easy sometimes and the game just feels boring. But you have to find that edge, you have to find something that’s going to push you.”
What pushed World Peace against the Clippers was the chance to push tough guys Reggie Evans and Blake Griffin around a little bit.
“Once the guys [on the Clippers] started talking to me, I had to come out of my shell a little bit,” World Peace told 710 ESPN’s “Mason & Ireland Show” on Thursday. “So, they kind of woke me up.”
The wake-up call was appreciated by World Peace’s teammates.
“I think [Wednesday] night it was definitely a positive,” said Pau Gasol. “I don’t think you might need that necessarily every night, but his aggression and aggressiveness and level of energy last night really made an impact and that’s something that we look forward to from Ron. Because, he might not be having a great shooting night, but if he has a couple steals, gets into a couple guys’ faces, puts his body on people, knocks somebody around a little bit here and there, plays physical … He’s as physical as it gets at the small forward position. You don’t get a much stronger guy than him, so you got to use his body to be a factor.”
World Peace’s body is finally back in top form after coming into training camp admittedly out of shape. Coach Mike Brown called him “heavy” and reduced World Peace’s minutes from 29.4 per game as the starting small forward last season to 20.9 this year in a reserve role. Brown even sat World Peace out the entire game against Cleveland less than two weeks ago, surprising considering World Peace played in all 82 of the Lakers’ games a year ago.
“I just think I’m getting in shape,” World Peace told 710 ESPN. “I planned on playing really hard this season, but I couldn’t do that early on because I was out of shape and then when I got in shape, I wasn’t getting no minutes so I wasn’t able to show the things that I was able to do.”
He insists that his career low averages of 5.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists and 0.2 blocks on just 33.9 percent shooting has more to do with his minutes being cut and his body rounding into shape than it does with his not being fully engaged.
“It really hasn’t changed,” World Peace said. “I’ve just been out on the floor. On the bench, I was really enthusiastic on the bench. Bench players don’t get credit for clapping. I had a lot of energy on the bench.”
After the Clippers game, Bryant said he wants to see more of the old, aggressive Ron Artest and less of the passive World Peace.
“Ron was his feisty self on the perimeter,” Bryant said Thursday. “He just needs to be who he is. We brought him in there for him being himself, so he just has to be himself.”
World Peace wants people to know the definition of who he is doesn’t include any malicious intent.
“On the court, I’m definitely not a mean person. I’m still the same person. I play extremely hard,” he told 710 ESPN. “You won’t be seeing that much. I can play basketball with just as much energy without talking smack and still being energized and having fun with the fans.”
Gasol put it thusly: “He’s World Peace now. He can’t be too aggressive or too violent out there. He’s preaching peace.”
Still, whatever player wore No. 15 for the Lakers last night-- the docile Metta World Peace, the rambunctious Ron Artest, or some combination of the two -- was sprung to life by the Clippers. And Clippers-Lakers games are sure to be just as lively for every player involved moving forward.
“I love it,” World Peace said. “It’s a L.A. rival. It’s here. I’m happy the Clippers are doing well. I’m happy we got a chance to [be like] New York that has the subway series with the Yankees and the Mets. I’m happy to be a part of this Clippers and Lakers rivalry. I hope we meet each other in the playoffs. That would be great for the city.”
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.