A festive atmosphere permeated around the Lakers, and no one epitomized that Christmas spirit more than Metta World Peace.
It went beyond World Peace's last name representing an ideal many clamor for this holiday season. He delivered a bundle full of stocking stuffers in the Lakers' 100-94 victory Tuesday over the New York Knicks at Staples Center in the form of defense, clutch scoring and consistent energy.
World Peace's 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting marked his eighth consecutive game in double digits. Although Carmelo Anthony scored a team-high 34 points on 13-of-23 shooting, World Peace limited him to five points on a 2-of-11 clip when he guarded him in the first half. And any time he left the floor, the 18,997 fans at Staples Center gave World Peace a rousing applause.
"It's been like this for the majority of the season," said World Peace, who has averaged 13.7 points per game on 42.8 percent shooting, the highest output in his four seasons with the Lakers. "I try to come out and play hard. Just play old-school basketball."
World Peace bulldozed his way into the lane. He fronted Anthony any time he tried to establish post position. World Peace nearly came to blows against Knicks center Tyson Chandler after battling for a loose ball, a play that prompted Lakers guards Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash to embrace World Peace for his aggressiveness.
"The opportunities Melo got, he had to work for them and had to free himself up and get some
screens," Bryant said. "That's the beauty competing against Metta. You have to have your hard hat on."
World Peace didn't receive that opportunity right away.
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni started second-year player Darius Morris at shooting guard while Bryant moved to small forward, hoping the defense-by committee approach would limit Anthony. After all, he dropped 30 points in the Lakers' loss two weeks ago at New York while World Peace guarded him.
After Anthony scored five points on his first two attempts, World Peace came in at the 7:42 mark. He then stuck to Anthony like taped wrapping paper. It also didn't help that Anthony appeared to favor his ankle after falling to the ground on one play. Anthony also was hobbled after Knicks forward Marcus Camby bumped into his knee.
Still, World Peace couldn't get past feeling "a little disappointed" Anthony scored 24 second-half points on 9-of-12 shooting and for fouling out with 1:58 remaining in the game. He also downplayed his offensive resurgence.
"I'm not used to guys trying to take a break on me in my career," World Peace said. "They usually put the best defender (on me). Now they've tried to put the worst defender and take a break. I have to make these guys work and give them work."
Turning A Corner?
The Lakers reached the .500 mark for the second time this season and the first time under D'Antoni. Has the Lakers coach calmed after opening his first season with the Lakers at a 4-9 record?
"I don't think so," Bryant said. "He's pretty high-strung. He's always on edge. That's just the competitor in him. I don't think he'll rest until it's June."
After scoring 34 points against the Knicks, Bryant eclipsed Oscar Robertson Tuesdayas the highest leadingscorer in NBA history in Christmas Day games. Bryant has posted 383 points in a league-record 15 Christmas games, slightly above Robertson's 377.
"That's crazy," Bryant said. "It's been fun and a great time doing it. These are some of the things you'll miss when it's all said and done."