No current Laker has played nearly as many games at Staples Center as Metta World Peace. And, perhaps for the final time, the 37-year-old put on a show as the arena chanted his name.
In spite of a scoreless first half, World Peace led Los Angeles with 18 points, resulting in unified shouts of “Metta! Metta!” during the final minutes of the Lakers’ 108-96 win over New Orleans in their home season finale.
A crucial piece of the Lakers’ 2010 championship team, World Peace said that former general manager Mitch Kuphcak gave him a 10 percent chance of even making the roster this season.
But the longtime fan favorite did just that, as his 18th NBA season culminated with his teammates throwing cold water on him in the locker room and getting him to autograph a box score for each of them.
In return, he was given the game ball, which he plans to have signed by the entire team before casing.
“This is the best feeling,” World Peace said of mentoring a team of young players. “Being at the bottom, building a foundation and grinding. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like this. This is great. You fail, but you still push and we do it together.”
The Lakers (26-55) led by just four at halftime before breaking the game open in the third. World Peace started getting in his rhythm with seven points while Brandon Ingram ended the frame with the most explosive play of his rookie year.
The 19-year-old found a seam and charged through to the hoop, where New Orleans’ Cheick Diallo attempted to challenge his attempt. But Ingram just kept going up before throwing down a one-handed, tomahawk jam over the power forward.
Immediately after, he let out a yell as the crowd roared along with him.
“It was maybe the first time I’ve gotten emotional like that,” Ingram said. “I think it was a good play for us to end with in the third quarter and (was) definitely excited about it.”
Ingram was fouled on the jam and added a free throw to put the Lakers up by 12 at the end of the third. Then, it was time for World Peace.
The veteran — who started in place of D’Angelo Russell (personal reasons) — caught fire in the fourth, hitting three 3-pointers and another fadeaway jumper to score 11 of his points.
World Peace, who also added four steals, finished the night with his highest scoring total since his brief tenure with New York four years ago.
His head coach and former teammate, Luke Walton, couldn’t help but soak in the moment.
“I got goosebumps when I took him out in the fourth and when he was on the bench and they were chanting his name,” Walton said.
Walton called World Peace the “perfect example of how to be a professional in this league” for the team’s young players, who were shouting and cheering from the bench during his fourth-quarter eruption.
The task of mentoring the franchise’s future has been a meaningful one for World Peace, who said it is up there with his many accomplishments, including Defensive Player of the Year, All-Star and All-NBA.
“I had a great time winning championships — there’s no feeling like that,” he said. “But to be at the foundation and start of something that you know is on its way up; I feel really good about that. It’s one of the highlights of my career.”
World Peace’s eruption ensured that the Lakers would extend their winning streak to five games for the first time since March 2012 — back in his original stint with the franchise before playing with the Knicks and overseas.
World Peace’s night was supplemented by Ingram, who had 15 points and six assists while serving as the primary distributor in Russell’s stead. Meanwhile Jordan Clarkson added 15 points of his own.
With All-Stars Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins sitting out due to injuries, the Pelicans (33-48) hardly threatened in the second half, much to the distaste of head coach Alvin Gentry.
“There is zero to take away,” he said. “Unless you want to count some of the BS that happened at the end where guys get baskets and end up with great numbers.”
World Peace passed Ron Harper for the 22nd-most career steals in NBA history (1,719). … Cheick Diallo led the Pelicans with 19 points and 11 rebounds. … Staples Center was sold out by a crowd of 18,997, including NBA legends Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy, Bill Walton and Bill Russell.