By Mark Medina and Vincent Bonsignore
Lakers forward Metta World Peace walked down a Staples Center hallway in full stride and was bearing a wide smile.
He insisted he can return when the Lakers host the New Orleans Hornets on Tuesday at Staples Center despite having surgery to treat a lateral meniscus tear on his left knee a little more than a week ago.
"I've been ready to play," World Peace told this newspaper following the Lakers' 109-95 loss Sunday to the Clippers at Staples Center. "I could've played today."
Not so fast.
The Lakers plan to have World Peace run today at 90 percent of his body weight on an elliptical machine before evaluating whether he can run with full body weight Tuesday. It's likely he'll then have to go through at least a practice before returning.
Still, Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni described World Peace's progression as "way ahead of schedule." The Lakers estimated he'd sit out at least six weeks. But World Peace spent the past three days running and the past two participating in shooting exercises.
How did he progress so quickly?
"I'm good," said World Peace, who's missed the last six games. "I'm not a (wimp)."
It also helps World Peace reported no swelling in his knee.
"I was walking a day after (surgery). I only used the crutches because I was lazy," World Peace said. "I was ready to go."
Still, one person remained unimpressed.
"A real dude from New York would be back right now," ESPN analyst Jeff Van Gundy joked as he walked past World Peace. "I saw you moving out there. You looked good."
Even with persisting injuries and lacking a training camp when he took over five games into the season, D'Antoni insisted they should be among the top four teams in the Western Conference. The Lakers (40-37) are behind the Utah Jazz (41-37) for the eighth playoff seed.
"We don't fear anyone. We can beat anybody," D'Antoni said. "But we've had a hard time sustaining our energy."
Lakers guard Steve Nash missed his third consecutive game because of soreness in his right hip and right hamstring. He said he remains unsure if he will return Tuesday against New Orleans. ___
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