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Lakers Can't Afford to Lose Metta World Peace's Defense for Stretch Run

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | The Los Angeles Lakers are entering the critical stretch run with their season on the line, and they received a pleasant surprise when forward Metta World Peace suited up on Tuesday night just 12 days after suffering a torn meniscus in his left knee.

It's just as well, too, because without him, their chances of making the playoffs and securing the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference dwindle exponentially.

That's because statistically, the player Kobe Bryant dubbed "Wolverine" is the Lakers' best perimeter defender. That area has caused L.A. all sorts of issues in 2012-13, and to have any chance at winning at least four of their final five games, they'll need his presence to get stops -- those which they haven't been able to produce when it's mattered most.

Despite being in the twilight of his career, World Peace's strength to this year's Lakers squad lies in being able to cause opposing wing players problems and create turnovers. He still has fast hands and can make outstanding reads as evidenced by his No. 2 team rank in defensive win shares (2.5) and his leading mark in steals (1.7 per game). Collectively, however, the Lakers are deficient in those areas. Going into Tuesday's contest against the Hornets, they've allowed 101.1 points per game (24th in the NBA). They had 546 steals at that point, ranking them 23rd.

That means they're deficient on the defensive end in some important areas, and they need every bit of help they can get. Losing their best defender on the outside isn't conducive to winning close games when younger, more athletic teams have made a habit of exploiting the purple and gold's issues in that regard. With time running out, they can't allow that to happen.

The Lakers need whatever production they can get from their mercurial forward, and it could make all the difference that he's coming back to finish out the regular season. But will his return be enough to help them overcome the odds and get into the postseason?

Michael C. Jones covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA as a Southern California-based sports journalist and editor. He contributes to SB Nation in addition to Yahoo! Sports and is the Managing Editor of Sports Out West.

Catch up with him on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets

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