How the Los Angeles Lakers' latest injury affects their chase for the Western Conference's final playoff spot remains to be seen, but they started off the final stretch without their emotional leader on the right foot.
The Milwaukee Bucks, meanwhile, are all but assured a playoff spot, but they're mired in a four-game losing streak and one of their top scorers is unhappy.
Los Angeles continues a four-game road trip on Thursday night against Milwaukee - one of seven teams in postseason contention it will play over its final 10 contests.
All of those games will come without the services of Metta World Peace. He is slated for surgery Thursday after he suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee in Monday's loss to Golden State and is expected to miss at least six weeks. That timetable likely keeps him out until the second round of the playoffs, if the Lakers (37-35), who own a one-game edge over Utah for the eighth spot in the West, even qualify and advance that far.
World Peace averages 12.8 points and 5.1 rebounds, but he will be missed more on the defensive end, where the Lakers have already had trouble this season allowing 101.4 points per game.
Los Angeles, which just got Pau Gasol back in the mix after he was sidelined for 5 1/2 weeks with a torn plantar fascia, struggled mightily defensively without World Peace on Wednesday against Minnesota, but held on for a 120-117 win to snap a three-game skid.
"He's a ferocious player," said Kobe Bryant, who had 31 points while assuming World Peace's starting role at small forward. "He gives us that emotional boost. There's a lot of games where we lack energy and he provides that for us. We need to make up for that."
With Bryant not at his normal shooting guard spot, Jodie Meeks slid in there for his third start of the season but was just 2 of 7 for five points in 35 minutes.
Milwaukee (34-36) would seem to be nearly guaranteed a playoff spot with a 6 1/2-game lead over Philadelphia for eighth place in the East with 12 games to play. But the Bucks' hopes of catching seventh-place Boston, whom they trail by 2 1/2 games, to avoid a first-round series with Miami appear to be slipping away. Wednesday's 100-92 loss at Philadelphia was the team's fourth in a row and seventh in nine games, and more significantly, may have put a serious dent in the group's chemistry.
Brandon Jennings, the team's leader in assists with a personal-best 6.8 per game and second-leading scorer at 17.7 per game, was benched for the entire fourth quarter and finished scoreless for the first time in his career.
Coach Jim Boylan said he saw it as a way to possibly energize the team, but Jennings seemed less than energized in the locker room afterward.
"I think that everyone should be held accountable," said Jennings, who totaled 16 assists and 16 points on 5-of-30 shooting (16.7 percent) in the previous two games. "There's no maxed-out players in this locker room. So don't try to put me on a pedestal and just give everyone else the freedom to do whatever they want."
The Bucks have dropped 17 of 22 in the series but took a 100-89 victory in the last meeting in Milwaukee on Jan. 28, 2012. Los Angeles claimed a 104-88 home win on Jan. 15, with Bryant and Dwight Howard each scoring 31 while the Bucks were held to 35.8 percent shooting.
Howard is averaging 24.0 points on 60.8 percent shooting with 14.4 rebounds over his last 15 games versus Milwaukee.
The Associated Press News Service
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