Metta World Peace: ‘I’m not a dirty player’

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Despite his key role in the NBA black eye infamously known as “Malice in the Palace” in 2004 and a record 11 league-mandated suspensions since 2003, Los Angeles Lakers forward Metta World Peace isn’t a dirty player.

Just ask him.

“I didn’t bring aggression to the (NBA),” he said during a session with reporters after Saturday’s practice that he initially began by trying to stick up for Dwight Howard. World Peace said Howard gets very little protection from the referees and the league.

“These are intentional fouls,” said MWP, who knows a great deal about the subject. “He gets fouled a lot intentionally, and he’s getting hurt.”

But then the subject got to World Peace’s own transgressions throughout the years, and he began trying to explain them away like only he can.

“When I started watching NBA basketball, around, like, 1995, I was a fan of the Knicks and Miami and those types of playoff series,” World Peace said, “and I wanted to play in those types of games. It was rough, but it wasn’t dirty. Players played hard, but nobody was trying to hurt anybody.”

Unfortunately for the former Ron Artest, many NBA coaches and players feel he does go out of his way to intentionally harm opponents.

Denver coach George Karl said World Peace’s elbow smash to the mouth of Kenneth Faried during the Lakers’ loss was intentional.

“I saw it on film,” Karl said “and it was premeditated.” After the league reviewed the play, Metta was hit with a Flagrant-2 foul, putting him just one more flagrant foul away from another suspension.

Last season’s most egregious example of bad World Peace was an elbow to the head of then-Oklahoma City player James Harden, giving the 2011-12 Sixth Man of the Year a concussion and earning World Peace a seven-game suspension that stretched into the postseason.

MWP smiled when informed of Karl’s conclusions.

“George Karl knows (how it works), come on, man,” World Peace said. “He’s been in the NBA a lot longer than me.”

Which probably means Karl can easily detect the difference between an unintentional elbow and a planned attack on a fellow player. Especially from someone whose past actions have earned him the label of an NBA violent offender.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni stuck up for MWP, saying he didn’t think “anything was premeditated” in the Faried incident, but he expressed displeasure with the number of flagrant and/or technical fouls World Peace, Kobe Bryant and Howard have accumulated. All are close to missing at least a game if they’re unable to control their emotions for the rest of the regular season.

“Sometimes, we do deserve those flagrant fouls, but they have to control themselves,” D’Antoni said, “especially because it could lead to suspensions. We’re in a hole and can’t afford to have anyone miss a game.

“It’s got to be on the players to avoid it. It’s not like I can make them not do it. I have faith in them, though, and I think we’ll be OK.”

However, as Shakespeare wrote, “What’s past is prologue.”

World Peace’s past points out that in the next 23 games, he’s very likely to do something irresponsible on the court. Another Flagrant-2 nets him a two-game suspension, while another Flagrant-1 will cost him one game. Howard is on the flagrant-foul borderline as well, and Bryant will be suspended if he’s called for pair of technical fouls.

After a terrible start, the Lakers have won 12 of their last 17 to put themselves in a realistic position to make the playoffs, and one game missed by any of their key players could kill those hopes. They enter Sunday night’s home game against Atlanta with a 29-30 record, 2½ games behind Houston for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

It’s no longer enough to just keep winning. They need to be on their best behavior, too.