If Wednesday night is any indication, the battle for Los Angeles is officially underway between the newly formed rival Lakers and Clippers. There was a playoff atmosphere at Staples Center earlier this week, and things got really chippy in a game that the Lakers came back to win. There were technical fouls and ejections and the person at the center of it all was the lockdown defender formerly known as Ron Artest. Metta World Peace showed the fight, the energy, and toughness that the Lakers have been searching for the last two years.
Things have been a bit of a struggle for the Lakers early this season, especially on offense with new head coach Mike Brown. However, the new identity of the Lakers is defense. If Metta World Peace can bottle the play on Wednesday night against the Clippers, Los Angeles will have the defensive stopper they thought they were getting in free agency a few years ago.
Metta World Peace joined ESPN Radio in Los Angeles to talk about whether or not something changed for him prior to the game the other night against the Clippers, if he can still be a good defensive player in the NBA, if he is still the same kind of defender he was when in his prime, on the Lakers/Clippers rivalry, and if he thinks he lost some of his edge when he changed his name to Metta World Peace.
Whether or not something changed for him prior to the game the other night against the Clippers:
“No I just think I’m getting in shape. I planned on playing really hard this season but I couldn’t do that early on because I was out of shape. When I got in shape I wasn’t playing no minutes so I wasn’t able to show the things that I was able to do. For the most part I feel great. Yesterday was different because once the guys started talking to me I had to come out of my shell a little bit, so it kind of woke me up. Former All-Star, former really good player, I had teams where I led my own team and put up big numbers, had big defensive games and I think guys forget because I’m on a team with Kobe and Pau and I don’t score as much. I think sometimes they forget if I was taking 15 or 20 shots a game I could easily give 30 a night or 20 a night. Sometimes guys forget who they’re playing against and who they’re talking to.”
If he can still be a great defensive player like he used to:
“Not as well as I used to be able to. When I got Defensive Player of the Year almost all four averaged six points against me but that was seven years ago. I can still play pretty good defense. At 80 percent of that I’m still one of the best defensive players in the league. I don’t know who’s better. I’m not even at full strength. I can still guard the top players and things like that.”
Whether or not he can be the player he was in the past on the defensive side of the ball:
“Of course not because I’m 32. I was in my prime athletically. I’m getting older so there’s no way in the world I’m going to be able to guard guys the same way. It doesn’t mean I still can’t shut people down. I can still shut people down but on the same level? Absolutely not. That was special back when.”
On the Lakers/Clippers rivalry being renewed:
“It was definitely chippy. Guys out there playing hard and it’s fun. I’m so happy to be in Los Angeles right now at a time when the Clippers are playing well, they have stars, not just young players with big contracts, I’m talking they have legit stars. They have legit smart players, hungry players, and an improving center with DeAndre Jordan. I’m very happy to be in Los Angeles because this is how to look at legacy. This is special times. It’s great to be a part of special things. People would not remember me if I didn’t have that big game seven. They forget that I only averaged 11 points and had two points in game three but when your legacy is on the line then you step up. I’m happy to be a part of the Los Angeles Clippers/Lakers rivalry and I know the fans in Los Angeles are very happy to be a part of it.”
If he thinks he lost some of his edge after changing his name:
“On the court I’m definitely not a mean person. I’m still the same person. I play extremely hard. Yesterday I was actually able to play minutes in shape. That was the only difference. I’m definitely not a mean guy on the court. I’m very, very physical and it may look like I’m mean. The other day guys were doing a little too much talking to me so I was trying to not say anything but kept running his mouth so I had to kind of bring back the old Ron Artest briefly. You won’t be seeing that much.”