Robert Sacre had his best preseason game yet Wednesday and is still in the running for a roster spot with the Lakers.
It was just 19 seconds into the Lakers' first preseason game against Golden State this month when Sacre, the last pick of the 2012 NBA draft, looked at the four All-Stars he was sharing the court with, looked at the rim and let the 12-footer fly.
He missed the shot, but with less than one week left before the Lakers have to make final cuts on Monday, Sacre finds himself with a legitimate shot to make the team.
Sacre had his finest game of the preseason yet Wednesday, filling up the stat sheet with 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting, 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals in 35 minutes in the Lakers' 97-91 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. And he did it all against the Clips' DeAndre Jordan, a center who signed a contract north of $40 million last season.
"He's learning, he's growing," Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "He did some good things and he didn't do some good things. So, it's both. But I'll tell you what, the experience that he's getting now is invaluable for him. He's got a big body, he's not afraid, he's going to play hard, he's pretty smart for a rookie. But he's playing with some guys who are helping him out too. They're helping him look pretty good out there and he's taking advantage of it."
Sacre has had some luck on his side in the three weeks since training camp began. With Howard out in the first game, Brown started the former Gonzaga standout on a whim because he and Sacre played in the same college conference (Brown went to University of San Diego, another West Coast Conference school).
Then there's the Canadian connection with Nash, who grew up in Victoria, British Columbia. Sacre is from Vancouver, B.C. Nash is "checking" for Sacre, as they say in NBA circles. He tweeted after that first preseason game that his first assist in a Lakers uniform went to Sacre, adding, "Never thought 2 BC boys would ever start for the Lakers."
And even Howard's rehab plan has benefited Sacre. Howard has been healthy enough to practice full bore ever since training camp opened, but the team held him out of games as a precautionary measure. That not only has given Sacre a chance to play, but to start for the league's glamour franchise. All of the sudden "Mr. Irrelevant" has become relevant, especially for fans looking for some sliver of a silver lining amidst the team's 0-7 start to the preseason.
The Lakers have 13 guaranteed contracts already taking up spots on their roster. A team can carry a maximum of 15 players in the NBA, but sources indicate L.A. will probably stick with 14 and leave a roster spot open to save money on their already exorbitant salary sum, and to give them flexibility later in case they want to pick up an established veteran available on the market to give the bench some punch.
Sacre already has outlasted four training camp invitees. Chris Douglas-Roberts, Greg Somogyi, Reeves Nelson and Ronnie Aguilar came and went as Sacre continues to live in a hotel close to the Lakers' facility in El Segundo, Calif., not knowing when he wakes up if it will be his last chance to walk to practice or if his NBA dream will continue.
"He was a great guy," Sacre said about Somogyi, using the past tense to describe the 7-foot-3 center he banged up against all summer at voluntary workouts. "It's tough to see those guys leave, but that's the nature of the business."
Sacre is in the big-body business, using his 7-foot, 260-pound frame to clear space, intimidate (he literally swung Blake Griffin off of his feet while wrestling with him for a loose ball Wednesday) and knock other bodies around.
One or two of those bodies he has to knock off the Lakers' radar in a figurative sense are guards Andrew Goudelock and Darius Johnson-Odom, the last two players other than Sacre without guaranteed contracts still fighting for a roster spot as training camp winds down.
It's a hard task to accomplish and so Sacre is going about it the hard way, as in playing hard.
He took an elbow across the bridge of his nose at Tuesday's practice, leaving him with two black eyes, and barely batted an eyelash.
"He got hit and he just kept playing," Brown said. "He just kept playing. He didn't say a single word, then it started gushing with blood. He went and saw the trainer, and they plugged his nose and they sutured his nose, and he went back out there and kept playing the rest of practice. He didn't miss a beat. And you know, you want to earn respect as a big, tough, strong guy -- especially with this team or in this league -- and that's how you do it."
Howard was the one who hit him inadvertently, according to sources, at the practice, but Sacre wouldn't divulge.
"It's a part of the game," Sacre said. "I don't like to put my teammates out there like that."
His game is far from perfect. He had five turnovers (showing some struggle with the offense) and five fouls (showing some struggle with the pick-and-roll defense) Wednesday and his free-throw shooting, which was a strength in college (73.4 percent) has plummeted in the preseason (13-of-24, 54.2 percent). But he's certainly shown enough to have some thinking the Lakers might have pulled off another second-round steal.
"He has a chance to be in the NBA a really long time once he figures things out," said Steve Blake, a former second-round pick himself who is entering his 10th season.
He has already figured out the way to endear himself to a locker room.
On a team with out-sized personalities like Howard, Bryant and Metta World Peace, Sacre is not some meek freshman looking to go unnoticed around the upperclassmen.
Before Wednesday's game he was joking how his "raccoon eyes" weren't hurting his game on the court, but more so hurting his game off of it.
"It just messes up my GQ look," Sacre said in an "Anchorman"-type deadpan. "That was the hard part. It just kind of humbled me a little more."
At an earlier practice, he gladly lifted up his sweaty jersey to show off the Snoop Dogg tattoo on his abdomen to an ink-curious reporter.
He has made himself a part of the team already and he's darn close to staying a part of it all season long.
"I feeling confident, no question," Sacre said. "I just need to keep focusing on what I need to do and just keep trying to get better."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.