Saturday, January 4, 2014
Marshall Madness lifts the Lakers
By Dave McMenamin
LOS ANGELES -- Just five days ago, before the Los Angeles Lakers played the Philadelphia 76ers, coach Mike D'Antoni was asked why Kendall Marshall had appeared in only two out of the five games (in garbage time) the Lakers had since the former college standout joined the team.
Kendall Marshall became the first player since Kobe Bryant in February 2002 to reach 20 points and 15 assists in a game.
"I don't know him," D'Antoni said at the time. "I've seen him play maybe two minutes. I don't think we're at the point where, 'Oh, let's experiment.'"
Since then, however, both Xavier Henry and Jordan Farmar joined Steve Nash and Steve Blake in the ever-growing Lakers' Injured Point Guards Club -- and as far as experimenting goes, well, you know how they say necessity is the mother of all invention.
How does D'Antoni feel about Marshall now after the former lottery pick turned D-League cast-off racked up 20 points and 15 assists in the Lakers' 110-99 win over the Utah Jazz on Friday?
"This was easy because we have no other alternative," D'Antoni said. "It’s like, ‘Hey, I love you. You’re great.’ It’s easy. When you’re the only point guard, you’re not really looking over your shoulder because you kind of know that it’s going to be me or me."
"Me" stood for the Marshall Experience on Friday, a performance that was so good it left D'Antoni uttering the name of his most famous rags-to-riches success story in a coaching career that's turned plenty of trash into treasure and discards into diamonds.
"I’m not making a comparison, but Jeremy Lin did the exact same thing," D'Antoni said when asked about Marshall going from coughing up four turnovers in six minutes in his Laker debut just two weeks ago to becoming the first Laker player since Kobe Bryant in February 2002 to hit the 20-point, 15-assist plateau. "The first time he went out in Boston it was awful, and I’m thinking, ‘Oh my gosh.’ Then, obviously it happened to him. It does happen to guys."
"Linsanity" was a once-in-a-lifetime basketball supernova that was as much a cultural touchstone as it was hoop dream. "Marshall Madness" has a nice ring to it, but what's more important than Marshall becoming a favorite in the eyes of Lakers fans is Marshall becoming a reliable option in the eyes of D'Antoni.
And that appears to be happening. Three simple compliments from the coach said way more than D'Antoni's over-the-top Lin comparison. No. 1, "He has great vision, he sees everything;" No. 2 was, "He just played the way you’re supposed to play at point guard;" and No. 3 was, "The biggest thing I’m looking for is can he give our team a rhythm, and he did that. He should be able to do that every night."
As much as Marshall earned some revenge against the Jazz for being one of the teams looking for a point guard that didn't call him when Trey Burke was injured earlier in the season ("I know that the Jazz let go of a guard earlier this year and I didn’t get a call, so I felt a certain kind of way about that," Marshall said), more important, he earned D'Antoni's trust.
And perhaps even more important than that, was he gained some of the confidence back that had eroded ever since his rocky rookie season in Phoenix, followed by him being traded to Washington and summarily waived before his sophomore season even started.
It was the stuff of storybooks for the former North Carolina stud. He opened it up by scoring the Lakers' first five points against the Jazz in the game's first 52 seconds. He gave the Lakers life when they were flailing in the third quarter by finding Shawne Williams with back-to-back assists on back-to-back 3s to push L.A.'s lead from 10 to 16. "I ain't going to lie man, he made my week," said Williams. "He was just hitting us with good, clean passes -- swift, crisp -- and the ball was just moving." And he scored five more points in the game's final 46 seconds to seal it.
Marshall likens his path to fellow Tarheel Danny Green rather than Lin. Green, like Marshall, sweated success at UNC but lost his way in the pros before ending up in San Antonio and hitting an NBA Finals-record 27 3-pointers over the course of seven games against Miami last June.
As amazing as Green's turnaround has been, consider that Marshall was the sixth player to start a game at point guard for the Lakers this year and he was the catalyst in snapping their season-high, six-game losing streak.
Marshall has seen how ugly the NBA can be already, going from the future of the franchise in Phoenix to a Delaware 87er (yes, that's a real team) in less than a year. He wallowed in the negativity so much that he made a list on his cell phone of all the doubts he's heard about his game -- that he can't shoot, that's he's too slow, that he can't defend -- and he said he would "really just recite those things to myself every single day."
The Jazz game provided a bit of joy and something positive to focus on moving forward, something that everyone on the 14-19 Lakers could use right now.
"It hasn't really set in yet," said Marshall. "The thing I'm most excited about is the win."
It's been a while for both the Lakers and Marshall to have that feeling.