Los Angeles Lakers: reserves
No question, some nerves were settled by the debut of Dwight Howard, whose mere presence provided glimpses of the high ceiling possessed by these Lakers. But as with any player returning from injury, there's always fear of setbacks. And in a game in which Steve Nash and Metta World Peace also suffered injuries (a sore ankle and a dislocated right middle finger, respectively), those concerns are compounded.
Well, so far so good.
Howard told reporters of notable soreness, but those aches are a part of the process. The center was told his body would react this way, and treatment was part of today's agenda. In other words, nothing out of the ordinary. For that matter, Nash and MWP practiced -- albeit in a session with no heavy contact -- and neither is expected to miss any games. The same can be said for Kobe Bryant, who skipped today's workout with a strained right foot. The injury took place during Sunday’s loss to the Sacramento Kings, but nobody seemed particularly nervous about an extended absence. Mike Brown confirmed that Jordan Hill is close to a return.
The benefits to having all hands on deck extend beyond just the roster's collective strength. It allows Brown to finally develop an informed opinion for a desired rotation. Between the third-stringers he's been forced to give obligatory looks and some key players being absent, the coach hasn't been able to utilize players as envisioned. And the results have been obvious, especially with the reserves on the floor.
Not a Photoshopped picture: Steve Blake did actually execute this finger roll.
Quietly and by any measuring stick, Steve Blake, who's suffered through a largely disappointing season, has played two very good games in a row.
From a statistical standpoint, his numbers are much improved. Over the last two games, he's averaged nine points (53.8 percent from the field/60 percent from deep), 3.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds, and .5 turnovers in 28.5 minutes. The stats aren't necessarily eye-popping, but they're perfectly fine from a backup point guard. And against the backdrop of his overall April splits (5.4 ppg, 41.4 FG, 41.2 3pt, 3.0 apg, 1.3 rpg, 1.1 TO), they're practically a revelation. While fellow reserve Matt Barnes has insisted the Lakers bench shouldn't be judged by scoring totals, this entire season has served as proof of how hamstrung the starters become without consistent support. In particular, Blake's cupboard has been bare. Nobody would reasonably expect a dude with a 6.9 ppg career-average to reinvent himself as a purple and gold James Harden, but some firepower off the pine is mandatory. For at least two games, Blake's brought a gun to a gunfight.
Blake's also managed to impact games beyond his numbers. In New Orleans, a pair of charges were drawn and he not only tracked down an otherwise certain turnover, but managed to huck the ball while airborne to Ramon Sessions. The possession ended with Barnes scoring at the rim, but Blake enabled the basket, even as the only principal who didn't enter the box score on the sequence. Against the Spurs, he prevented a fast break by hustling back on transition, squaring up Stephen Jackson and getting his mitts on the ball. Slowed by Blake, Jackson had to take the ball out, and the ensuing possession came up dry.
Even as a great coach, Phil can still make curious decisions
Except one recurrent issue, which presented itself during Thursday's win over the Hornets.
With 5:22 remaining in the game and a 19 point lead, Phil Jackson decided to empty his bench... of starters. Ron Artest, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Pau Gasol took the floor to relieve Andrew Bynum and The Killer B's. Jackson has a curious habit of using starters late in games iced by any reasonable standard. Sometimes it's a matter of leaving them to play excessive minutes another team's scrubs. Other times, like Thursday, he'll actually go out of his way to put them back on the floor. But whatever the methodology, as I noted on Twitter, it never fails to drive me insane.
Predictably, several tweeps sent responses along the lines of "After 11 rings, you can't possibly question Phil Jackson's judgment."
Actually, yes I can. For that matter, so can you.