It seems as if everything that can go wrong has for the Los Angeles Lakers this season. After coming into the campaign with lofty expectations, they've struggled with coaching issues, injuries, supposed chemistry problems, more injuries, mismatched players, and the fact that even an 82-game season requires teams to figure things out in a matter of months. It's as if the franchise had avoided Murphy's law for years only to see a rush of problems all at once.
With only 11 games left in the regular season, one more thing has turned bad for the Lakers. As announced on the team's website on Tuesday night, starting forward Metta World Peace has a torn lateral meniscus in his left knee:
Lakers forward Metta World Peace, who injured his left knee in last night’s game against the Golden State Warriors, had an MRI exam today in Minneapolis. Results of the MRI showed a lateral meniscus tear. He will return to Los Angeles where he will be examined tomorrow [Wednesday] by team doctor Steve Lombardo. An update, including a time table for his return, will be issued at the conclusion of his examination.
That timetable depends on the severity of the tear, but evidence suggests that World Peace will miss a good chunk of time. As noted by Royce Young at Eye on Basketball, Minnesota Timberwolves wing Chase Budinger missed four months this season, while Tyrus Thomas sat for 10 weeks. Both those estimates would put MWP on the sidelines through the end of the playoffs, although it's not as if the Lakers were expected to get that far with a healthy lineup. It's also very possible that MWP will return sooner. In 2011, Dr. Mark Drakos told Reuters that some players can return within a manner of weeks.
Whatever the case, this is bad news for the Lakers. MWP is an inconsistent offensive player, but he's an essential perimeter defender, particularly in a playoff series against a player like Kevin Durant. Lakers.com reporter Mike Trudell tweeted shortly after the announcement that head coach Mike D'Antoni may opt to start Jodie Meeks alongside Kobe Bryant on the wings, which makes the Lakers much smaller and vulnerable at the defensive end.
This injury puts the Lakers' already tenuous hold on the final playoff spot in the West in further doubt. The rest of their schedule isn't exactly hellish, but it does feature several games against playoff teams jockeying for better seeds and one hugely important home game against the Dallas Mavericks squad that entered Tuesday night only one-and-a-half games back.
The situation is more complicated still due to World Peace's uncertain future. As our Kelly Dwyer wrote earlier Tuesday, the 33-year-old MWP can opt out of the last year of his contract this summer to seek a longer-termed deal. It seems highly unlikely that he'll avoid returning simply for that reason — World Peace is nothing if not a fierce competitor — but it's not an irrelevant factor. Regardless, even if he returns as soon as possible, it stands to reason that he will not be in full health.
Clearly, this injury presents the Lakers a dilemma without any obvious solutions. Wednesday's examination and recovery estimate should tell us much more.
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