Metta World Peace starts vs. Spurs

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Kobe Bryant's absence wasn't the only lineup change Sunday for the Los Angeles Lakers when they hosted the San Antonio Spurs.

Metta World Peace returned to the starting lineup, while Steve Nash will miss his seventh straight game because of his injured right hip and hamstring.

World Peace has averaged 5.0 points on 38.5 percent shooting and 2.7 rebounds in 17.7 minutes per game in the three games since returning to the court 12 days after undergoing surgery on his left knee. His return moves Earl Clark to the bench. Jodie Meeks started.

"He's ready to start again and we need some game-time experience," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said of World Peace after the team's shootaround Sunday.

D'Antoni was hopeful Nash would be ready to play in the Lakers' regular-season finale against the Houston Rockets.

"We're shooting for Wednesday and we'll just see," D'Antoni said. "It's still day to day, I can't tell you Wednesday for sure, but that's what we hope."

With Nash and Bryant out, D'Antoni said that seldom-used guard Darius Morris will get a chance to play. Morris started 17 games for the Lakers earlier in the season when Nash and Steve Blake were sidelined with injuries. But Morris has not received regular playing time since January.

The Lakers also acquired Andrew Goudelock from the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the D-League. Goudelock, selected by the Lakers with the 46th pick of the 2011 NBA draft, averaged 21.4 points in 37 games for Rio Grande this season while shooting 40.4 percent on 3-pointers after being waived by the Lakers in training camp following a surprisingly successful rookie season when he averaged 4.4 points.

"It's just surreal," Goudelock said before the game, signing his contract through the end of the season just about an hour before tip-off. "You just never think you'll be back here and then you're right back here."

"I think that's probably a good bet that we'll try to do that first," D'Antoni said when asked about Goudelock, adding that general manager Mitch Kupchak is "combing everything" to try to add some roster depth to the Lakers "real quick."

Of course, adding Goudelock or playing Morris won't be enough to account for Bryant's 27.3 points per game scoring average, which ranks third best in the league.

"There's a lot of points we have to make up and it can't just be one guy, it can't just be all in on one thing so everybody has got to contribute," D'Antoni said, noting that Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol will be key factors.

"Everybody is ready," D'Antoni said. "Pau's ready to step up, he's been a No. 1 guy. Dwight's a No. 1 guy. Steve Nash is a No. 1 guy. Metta has been up there in the hierarchy. So, they're ready to roll and they're probably relishing the chance to show what they got.

"They're all alpha dogs. That's probably one of the earlier problems we had, they're all alpha dogs. They're ready to go."

Howard said his focus is on the defensive end.

"I'm not the coach, I don't make the decisions about what happens [on offense]," Howard said. "The only thing I can control is the defense and how hard I play. It's not about how many points we score in the paint or anything like that, it's how hard we play. I think that's what's going to tell whether we win or not."

Howard also said he tried to visit Bryant in the hospital following practice Saturday but Bryant had already been admitted for surgery. D'Antoni said he did not know when Bryant would be able to rejoin the team on the bench for games. Lakers trainer Gary Vitti said Saturday that Bryant would be immobilized for a month or more after surgery.

Not that D'Antoni is itching for "Coach Vino" to join his staff.

"This is uncharted territory," D'Antoni said with a laugh. "We're good, we'll see how it goes. Let's concentrate on the game today."

The Lakers lead the Utah Jazz by one game for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference with two games left to play, while the Spurs trail the Oklahoma City Thunder by a half-game for the No. 1 seed in the West.

"We're trying to get to the dance and we'll play hard, we'll play well," D'Antoni said. "They know the challenge and they're up to it and we still got a lot of All-Stars out there. Nash is a little frustrated not being ready, but other than that their spirits are good and they're ready to go."

Added Howard: "We still have a goal that we want to accomplish. We can't lose sight of our vision because a lot of guys have gone down. It's been like that all year. So, our vision is the same. We're going to continue to go out and put forth the effort every day in practice and the games and also believe. We believe that we can do something special and make history and we're not going to go into the game having any doubts because we're missing guys."