Los Angeles Lakers: Steve Blake
You knew Bryant -- like the little green-clad lads -- was supposedly in the building, but you rarely got a glimpse of him because he couldn't bring himself to watch the games from the bench.
It's an annual tradition by the Lakers to hand the microphone to a player before tipoff at the regular-season finale at Staples. It's not only a way to thank the fans for their support all season, but also to drum up enthusiasm for the Lakers' ensuing postseason run.
With no playoffs in the picture this season for the Lakers, who fell to 25-54 with a 112-95 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Friday, the context of Bryant's speech will be more like a eulogy for the worst campaign in team history.
But count on Bryant, who described himself as the "eternal optimist" a couple of years ago when the Lakers trailed the Dallas Mavericks 0-3 in a playoff series and he genuinely believed L.A. could come back to win, to offer up some kind of rallying cry for Lakers fans to latch on to rather than to dwell on the doldrums.
(Whether his optimism sometimes borders on delusion is another story for another day. The Lakers lost Game 4 of that Dallas series by 36 points to be swept out of the second round, of course.)
Besides, the timing for a eulogy at this point of the season with three games left would be all wrong. The truth is the Lakers' season flatlined long ago.
Just how long? There's a solid argument to be made that March 14 was the day the purple-and-gold dream died, when the Lakers became the first team in the league to be officially eliminated from postseason contention and there were still 16 games left to be played.
"His spark. His attitude," said Nick Young, asked to reflect on Blake with the point guard's new team, the Golden State Warriors, playing the Lakers on Friday. "He was a leader for us. In the earlier, beginning of the year, he was one of the main reasons we was winning. I think we needed that. I think we was all young players and ain’t really used to being in winning systems and we didn’t have that mental approach coming into the games that Blake and Kobe Bryant) bring."
Not long after the trade, Bryant tweeted that he was "not cool" with Blake's departure "AT ALL," adding that he considers the 11-year veteran a "psycho competitor."
With nearly two months passed since the deal, and the Lakers going just 7-17 with Blake, there are others in L.A. missing Blake the same way.
"When he’s on a team, he’s kind of your grittiness factor," said Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni. "He will play every possession. He’ll get upset with guys that don’t play hard. So, he’s sorely missed. He’s defense. He’ll make big shots. You just know he’s going to give everything. He’s a good player and he’s going to give everything he’s got every night on every play."
Blake was averaging 9.5 points and a career-high 7.6 assists in 27 games -- all starts -- with the Lakers before being traded. His role has been reduced with the Warriors, having his minutes cut down from 33 to 20.8 and his points (3.8 per game) and assists (3.3) taking a plunge as well.
But Blake's drop statistically pales in comparison to what losing him has meant to the Lakers.
"When he left, it kind of all caved in," D'Antoni said. "And there’s a reason for it and the reason is, he’s good. And he’s gritty and he’s tough. And he’s a locker room presence and he’s a practice presence. He just oozes what you need to do to win and when you lose that, it makes it tough. It’s hard to make up."
Jordan Farmar, who backed up Blake at point guard, said that his kind of presence is lacking in the locker room.
"He was a valuable guy to this team, this organization," said Farmar. "He’d been here for awhile, so he had some clout with just speaking up with things going on. He’s talented and tough and was a big part of what we were doing at that part of the season."
The good news for Blake is that he will be playoff bound with the Warriors, as they currently occupy the No. 6 seed in the West. The Lakers, meanwhile, are lottery bound and currently have the sixth-worst record in the league.
"You can try (to replace Blake), but either you got it or you don’t have it. And he has it. So, it’s just a void," said D'Antoni. "Especially with everybody being hurt and kind of coming back and this and that. I mean, if everybody is healthy, yeah, you can probably make up for it somewhere. But when he’s holding everything together a little bit as a thread and then he’s gone, it kind of caves in a little bit."
While nobody in L.A. was happy to see Steve Blake go at the trade deadline, the Lakers were able to save $4 million in the deal and may have found a keeper or two in Bazemore and Brooks in their trade with Golden State. After joining the Lakers for a shootaround before playing in their first game, the former Warriors combined for 18 fourth-quarter points against the Celtics, with Bazemore finishing with a career-high 15 points and Brooks scoring a season-high 14 on 7-for-11 shooting with three steals.
As bad as the Lakers have been this season, most of their struggles have come because of injuries (despite what coach Mike D'Antoni's lack of popularity in L.A. would suggest). It was no coincidence the Lakers finally ended their eight-game home losing streak with a 101-92 win over the Celtics thanks in large part to Gasol's 16 points and seven rebounds in his first game back from a right groin strain, and also the return of Meeks, who has led the team in scoring (17.5 points per game) in the two games he played since recovering from a sprained right ankle.
Lakers stay conservative at the trade deadline:
Leading up the trade deadline it seemed as if Gasol, Jordan Hill and Chris Kaman would all be on their way out of town if there were draft picks to be had and luxury-tax relief attached to the deal. Instead, the Lakers chose to stand pat after the Blake deal, setting up what is sure to be an offseason flush with activity.
Dwight Howard makes his triumphant return to Staples Center:
Lakers fans tried to take out their frustrations for the last year and a half of the franchise's struggles by chanting "Dwight Sucks!" when Howard and the Houston Rockets played at Staples Center against the Lakers for the first time since the All-Star center left L.A. in the offseason. Howard just laughed in their face, mocking the jeer by joining in himself, at the end of a night when he put up 20 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks on the way to a 134-108 win for his new team.
Another setback for Kobe Bryant:
The chances of Bryant making a return to the court sometime during the 2013-14 season are becoming slim. One day after Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said, "We're not going to push him to get back," Bryant was examined by Lakers physician Steve Lombardo and it was determined the star guard would miss at least three more weeks because of pain and swelling in his left knee before being re-evaluated. Of course at that point, Bryant would likely need another week or two of practice and conditioning before he would play in a game. If that's the case, there would be about only a dozen games left -- if that -- in the season for Bryant to return to.
It didn't take long for Kent Bazemore and MarShon Brooks, the newest members of the Los Angeles Lakers acquired from Golden State for Steve Blake earlier this week, to reveal how they have been molded by the Black Mamba.
"At first I was in shock," Bazemore said, recalling how Warriors general manager Bob Myers and coach Mark Jackson broke the news about the trade. "Then (Myers) said, 'Los Angeles, like, the Lakers,' and I was like, 'Oh my god! That's a dream come true.'
"Growing up, idolizing Kobe Bryant. He's probably, hands down, one of the greatest players to ever touch the basketball."
Brooks shared similar sentiments.
"I grew up a Lakers fan, a big Kobe Bryant fan, so I'm just excited to get to work," the third-year veteran out of Providence said.
Bazemore, who has been teammates with Brooks since the Warriors traded for him from Boston in January, said that Brooks has a game that is more like Bryant's.
"MarShon is reminiscent of, he used to get it in college, of the young Kobe Bryant with the fro and how he moves," said Bazemore, adding that Brooks is "one of the smoothest players around."
Brooks averaged 12.6 points per game as a rookie with the then New Jersey Nets, but has seen his scoring average dip to 5.4 points per game last year and just 2.6 points points this season in 17 combined games with Boston and Golden State.
When asked to describe his game, Brooks said: "I can score the ball, pretty much. Play make. Just make things happen, create my own shot."
While Brooks has tried to replicate Bryant's offensive skills, Bazemore has emulated Bryant's will.
"Kobe Bryant arguably has the greatest ticker in sports history as far as a guy that wants to get the job done and it's kind of contagious," said Bazemore. "I watched him growing up and you could see the fire in his eyes. When I put on the Lakers jersey tonight, hopefully I get some of those same powers going."
When asked to describe his game, Bazemore said: "Energy. Just bringing energy, whether it be on offense or defense."
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said that both Brooks and Bazemore would play anywhere from 10-25 minutes against the Boston Celtics on Friday, despite only arriving in L.A. on Thursday afternoon and going through just one brief shootaround with the team Friday morning.
"Hopefully we don't put too much in their mind to bog them down and let them just flow and play and try to make it simple for them as much as we can," D'Antoni said.
D'Antoni's easy-going, open attitude with his offensive system was already appreciated by both Bazemore and Brooks.
Said Bazemore: "It's good for guards like myself that like to get up and down and use my length and athleticism to run the wing, get in the pick-and-roll, get in the lane and finish. He's a very player-coach type of guy that likes to joke around with you, but all he asks for is just to play hard and give it your all."
Added Brooks: "I've proven I could score in this league. Just so much space on the court -- they like to play with four shooters around one big -- that's just a lot of spacing and I'm excited."
Outside of their mutual respect for Bryant, Bazemore and Brooks are also in the same boat when it comes to their murky NBA future. Both players have contracts that expire at the end of the season and are trying to find their NBA footing.
Brooks might have had that big rookie season, but he has collected a DNP-CD in nine out of the Warriors last 13 games.
"This year I haven't really had the opportunity to play at all," said Brooks. "I haven't really played meaningful minutes at all."
Bazemore might have had a 26-point game in the Las Vegas Summer League against the Lakers (leading to Lakers officials "giving him crap" for the performance on Friday, according to Bazemore), but he has averaged just 2.1 points in 105 games in the NBA.
"Obviously they're in the pros, so they got talent and we'll try to fit them in," said D'Antoni. "Each one is a little bit different. Bazemore is long and rangy and a defender and Brooks is a good offensive player. More than that, I don't know. We'll (get to) know their personalities and we'll see what they can do."
LOS ANGELES -- The night started off with a raucous round of boos by the Los Angeles Lakers home crowd determined to let Dwight Howard hear it for his decision to skip town.
It ended with the hushed tones of fans' feet shuffling up the stairs, heading to the exits early after seeing their team lose for the 23rd time in the last 28 games overall, including eight straight at Staples Center -- an all-time low for the franchise.
Howard did his damage early, collecting eight of his 20 points in the first quarter -- six of them coming off three rim-rattling dunks -- as well as six of his 13 rebounds as the Rockets built a 10-point lead.
What was left of the crowd late in the fourth quarter started a "Howard sucks!" chant, but the former three-time defensive player of the year thwarted its effectiveness as if he were swatting away a weak layup attempt, mockingly joining in the heckle as teammates Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley chuckled in delight.
If the boos didn't have any effect on Howard, they did even less to James Harden, who had what's becoming a typical line for him against the Lakers -- 29 points, 11 assists and six rebounds.
How it happened: The Rockets dominated from start to finish, leading by as many as 36 points at one point en route to their eighth straight win.
What it means: Howard's return to L.A. was overshadowed by the Lakers entering into the final 24 hours before Thursday's noon PT trade deadline and shipping Steve Blake to the Golden State Warriors shortly before tip-off. Lakers fans are finished obsessing over last season's disappointment or fretting over this season's failures. It's all about the future now and what subsequent moves could be in store for Thursday.
Hits: Wesley Johnson scored 24 points on 9-for-13 shooting, marking the sixth time in his last seven games that he has scored 15 points or more.
In his first game back from a right ankle sprain, Jodie Meeks scored 19 points on 7-for-14 shooting.
Kendall Marshall had 20 points and 16 assists.
Misses: The Lakers had 20 turnovers leading to 26 points for the Rockets.
L.A. allowed Houston to shoot 18-for-35 from 3 (51.4 percent).
Stat of the game: 40. That's how many points Houston scored in the third quarter to break the game wide open.
Up next: The Lakers host the Boston Celtics on Friday in their first game after the trade deadline. Time will tell what the team looks like then.
The Lakers have been one of the more active teams in advance of Thursday's deadline as they gauge the market for Gasol and veterans such as Jordan Hill, Chris Kaman and Steve Blake. With their record at 18-35 heading into Wednesday's game against the Houston Rockets, it makes little sense to pay luxury taxes and be in line to pay the more punitive repeater taxes in the future.
However, sources said the Lakers have remained resolute in every trade discussion not to trade Gasol without acquiring an asset in return, and that there is a growing sentiment within the organization that it could be more valuable to hold on to Gasol and his Bird rights as he becomes a free agent and the organization has substantial room under the salary cap for the first time in years.
The Lakers have stayed in contact with the two teams who had earlier showed interest in the four-time All-Star -- the Phoenix Suns and the Cleveland Cavaliers -- but sources said none of those discussions has made substantial progress.
On Tuesday, CBS Sports reported the Lakers and Dallas Mavericks were trying to assemble trade offers for 2015 prospective free agent Kevin Love, but thus far the Minnesota Timberwolves have given no indication they'd consider any such deal before the deadline.
The Lakers did inquire about Minnesota's interest in teaming Gasol with his Spanish countryman Ricky Rubio recently, according to a source, but those talks did not progress.
The Charlotte Observer reported the Charlotte Bobcats have been in contact with the Lakers about Gasol as they try to make a playoff push this spring.
The Suns had backed away from talks with the Lakers earlier this month when the 33-year-old suffered an injured groin that has kept him out for the past six games. Gasol had averaged 20.8 points and 11.9 rebounds in January before the injury. He practiced Tuesday and is listed as questionable for Wednesday's game.
The original construction of the talks between the Lakers and Phoenix involved injured center Emeka Okafor, who is owed $14.5 million in salary this season. While that falls well shy of Gasol's $19.3 million, it is allowable because the Suns are $5.6 million under the salary cap. A trade for Okafor's expiring deal would save the Lakers $4.8 million, but still leave them approximately $3 million over the luxury tax threshold.
The Lakers have concurrently had talks about Kaman, Hill, Blake and several other players. Sources confirmed to ESPNNewYork.com's Ohm Youngmisuk that Brooklyn and the Lakers have had trade discussions about Hill. The Nets have a $5.25 million Disabled Player Exception through March 10 that they were granted for losing Brook Lopez for rest of the season in December. But the Nets -- already possessing a payroll that will cost roughly $190 million this season -- would take an additional luxury tax hit of more than $15 million if they used it to absorb Hill's salary. The Hill discussions were first reported by Yahoo Sports.
LOS ANGELES -- It's about time for a break.
Playing with only eight healthy players on the roster, the Los Angeles Lakers gave the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder all they could handle but still came away on the losing end.
The Lakers could get up to four players back from the injured list after the All-Star break and will then try to put an end to their franchise worst seven-game home losing streak.
How it happened: The Lakers led by as many as 15 in the first half and by 10 heading into the fourth quarter before a 12-0 run by the Thunder cut L.A.'s lead to 85-84. Chris Kaman hit two free throws to put the Lakers back up by three, but Derek Fisher responded with a 3-pointer in his old building to tie it at 87-87, and then Kevin Durant streaked in for a transition layup to give Oklahoma City its first lead with 6:17 to go. Durant added a 3 to lift the Thunder's lead to five with 5:45 to go, but Wesley Johnson responded with a triple to bring L.A. back to within two and Kendall Marshall scored a layup to tie it at 92-92.
The Thunder went up two again, but L.A. stayed strong, getting a circus and-1 jump shot from Steve Blake to go down and edging back in the lead at 95-94 with 3:34 to go. Then it was Durant again, putting the Thunder ahead by one with another jumper. Kaman tied it by going 1-for-2 from the line, but Oklahoma City again went up by five thanks to two Serge Ibaka free throws and another Durant 3 to give him 41 points (he finished with 43). And again, L.A. clawed back, with Kaman making a layup with 22.5 seconds to go and getting fouled in the process. But he missed the free throw when he could have tied the score. None other than Fisher found himself at the line to put the Thunder back up by three with 16.8 seconds left.
Blake was fouled on a layup attempt and went 1-for-2 from the line, which was the closest the Lakers would get, losing by four.
What it means: For three quarters it looked as if the Thunder thought All-Star weekend started early, but their talent won out in the end against the undermanned Lakers.
Hits: Marshall had 14 points, 17 assists and seven rebounds.
Six Lakers scored in double digits.
Misses: L.A. started 8-for-18 from 3 and finished 10-for-28.
Stat of the game: 3-for-13. That's what Durant shot from 3-point land but still finished with 43 points.
Up next: The Lakers will have no players participating in All-Star weekend (although Kobe Bryant is expected to make an appearance Sunday to meet with new commissioner Adam Silver), so the team will get a few days off and reconvene for practice Tuesday before hosting Dwight Howard and the Houston Rockets on Wednesday.
This season there is more at stake for everybody involved.
For starters, the Lakers don't have anything left to play for this season. At 18-34 and losers of 21 of their last 26 games, there is no playoff berth in store this spring, let alone a title run.
With the present all but meaningless, it becomes all about the future.
And with a team that's set up to have 12 of its 15 players on expiring contracts, pretty much everyone -- outside of Kobe Bryant -- is expendable.
Pau Gasol has already been on the block for more than a month, first dangled to Cleveland before the Cavaliers instead chose to swap Andrew Bynum to Chicago for Luol Deng. Since then, Gasol has been the subject of trade talk with the Phoenix Suns for a package built around the injured Emeka Okafor and a potential draft pick.
Moving Gasol could accomplish two goals for Lakers management at this point: shedding salary to try to get under the luxury tax threshold and also adding a young piece or a draft pick it can use for the future.
When the Lakers-Cavs talks were still active, one league source described L.A.'s motivation to ESPNLosAngeles.com by saying, "The Lakers are in the assets-acquiring business."
The Lakers are approximately $8 million over the luxury tax line, so there are other ways they could get under without dealing Gasol.
Some combination of Steve Blake's $4 million expiring deal, Chris Kaman's $3.2 million contract or Jordan Hill's $3.5 million cap figure, along with a lesser contract or two, could accomplish the goal of getting under the luxury tax level of $71.7 million.
In the past, the Lakers simply swallowed hard and wrote a luxury tax check out to the league annually as sort of the cost of doing business when you're trying to perpetually field a contender, but under the new collective bargaining agreement, there is a far more punitive "repeater" luxury tax fee that a team has to pay unless it gets under the luxury tax two out of every four years.
While the Lakers' front office team of general manager Mitch Kupchak and executive vice president of player personnel Jim Buss will be left with the tough decisions to make in the next week, the rest of the Lakers will try to continue to operate like business as usual with a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Thursday and another against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday sandwiching the All-Star break.
"I haven't sensed it," said Blake when asked if there was any nervous energy building in the Lakers' locker room with the trade deadline looming. "Not here, but in past years, you can sense guys can be a little antsy about it. But so far I haven't really sensed it on this team. I think we all, in the back of our minds, know it's a possibility. Especially when a team is losing like we're losing. In this business anything can happen. We don't know, so it's really not worth spending too much time on it."
Blake, an 11-year veteran, knows the process all too well. He was traded from the Portland Trail Blazers to the Los Angeles Clippers on the deadline in 2010.
"We all understand it, we don't really discuss it," Blake said. "I think probably wives and girlfriends think about it more than we do. That's just the nature of it, because it's probably harder on them than us. So, that's kind of where it is."
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said it's OK to acknowledge the elephant in the room.
"We talk to individuals," D'Antoni said. "But again, I think when they sign up, they know. We have a good enough relationship with guys, you joke about it, talk about it and just try to get through it."
In a sport where instability is built into its structure with free agency, nonguaranteed contracts and the like, the trade deadline is just a fact of NBA life.
"They know it's part of the business, but there's always a sigh of relief after it's over that you don't have to pack your bags and leave," D'Antoni said.
Marshall has hit 44-for-89 3s in 23 games with the Los Angeles Lakers since being called up from the D-League earlier this season. He has been particularly hot as of late, shooting 9-for-12 in his past four games since assuming a reserve role after Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar returned to the lineup.
"It's unbelievable, isn't it?" Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said after practice, marveling at Marshall's accuracy. "Kendall is shooting the ball extremely well. He's playing well."
Marshall said that having a reputation as a sharpshooter actually is a return to his roots. Before he was known as a pass-first point guard, he was an outside gunner in high school.
"I went from 6-3, 150 [pounds] to 6-4, 180, so I just became a really big point guard at that point to where I was basically bullying guys and not shooting as many jump shots," Marshall said.
As good as his shot has been, he knows it has its limitations -- particularly his slow release. That's why you'll sometimes see Marshall let it fly when he's a foot or two behind the 3-point line.
"I need time to get it off," Marshall said. "So, if a defender has to close out farther, it's to my advantage. Again, with the way I shoot, I don't have a lot of motion so I feel like I'm strong enough to shoot from there."
Marshall's shot is far from conventional, but it works.
"Every coach I've had has told me that I have a good form, it's just a matter of shooting with confidence," said Marshall, who added that he has worked to add "more air" under the ball when he shoots.
His shooting has even gotten Nash's stamp of approval, no small feat considering Nash is one of a handful of guys in the conversation for best shooter in NBA history.
"I think he's proven it thus far," Nash said. "He's shot the ball well, especially for him, when he gets his feet set; he's got great range and knocks down the 3. I think that's been huge for him to kind of prove that he can shoot the outside shot, especially the 3s. It's part of his evolving game that I think we've all seen has been great and is really coming along."
Marshall, who averaged 11.9 points and 11.5 assists in 15 starts while Nash, Blake and Farmar were all injured, kept himself a part of the rotation with his shooting when they returned. Instead of just playing fourth-string point guard, he can also play shooting guard. D'Antoni even experimented with a three-guard lineup of Marshall, Nash and Blake against Chicago.
"The more we space the floor, the better it is, whether it's a big guy or small guy," D'Antoni said. "Can you get away with it defensively? We got away with it a little bit [against Chicago]. I don't know if that's always going to be the case. But, again, you're putting three good shooters, three good point guards on the floor. In certain areas, it's going to be great. Can you get by in other areas? It will be a game-to-game thing."
Nash thinks the benefits of the lineup outweigh the challenges.
"I think it gives us a different look," Nash said. "You have three playmakers, ball handlers and shooters, and it can be difficult under the right circumstances for a team to match up with."
Marshall would like to try the lineup again, too, saying the Lakers can use it to "funk teams out" here and there.
"It was interesting," Marshall said. "What I thought would be a problem wasn't a problem at all defensively. I thought we did a great job, us three. I thought we did a great job of cracking back and help rebounding. And offensively, when you got three guys that anybody can be in pick and roll and anybody can shoot the ball, it's hard to defend. So, I think we did a good job with it for the time we were out there."
While Marshall has proven he can pass and is proving he can shoot, now he has to make a name for himself on the other end of the court.
"His improvement now has to be on the defensive end, where he's a little bit more active and all that," D'Antoni said. "But, he's playing well."
After having a reason to feel good about themselves for the first time in a while as they finished their road trip on a two-game winning streak, the Los Angeles Lakers came back down to earth Sunday against the Chicago Bulls.
The Lakers did their best to make a game of it after falling down 10-0 to start and trailing by as many as 19 at one point, but a loss is a loss and Sunday's defeat marks 20 in the past 25 games for the Lakers.
How it happened: L.A. used a 9-2 run late in the fourth quarter to cut the Bulls lead to 86-80 with 1:28 left and got even closer with a Wesley Johnson dunk bringing the Lakers within four at 88-84 with 48.3 seconds left. L.A. got D.J. Augustin to miss a jumper on the next possession but turned the ball over on a Steve Blake pass when the Lakers streaked down the court to try to cut the deficit to two. Augustin responded with two free throws to put Chicago back up by six. Chris Kaman air-balled a 3 on the Lakers' final possession, despite a great game up to that point.
What it means: Those 10 "Did Not Play - Coach's Decision" that Kaman racked up in 15 games in January seem awful suspect after the former All-Star center put in 17 points, eight rebounds and three blocks against Philadelphia followed by an impressive 27-point, 10-rebound, two-block game against the Bulls. At the very least, he could be establishing some value on the trade market.
Hits: Kendall Marshall had 13 points and 11 assists off the bench and Jordan Hill had 15 points and nine rebounds, making their efforts as a reserve trio along with Kaman really stand out, especially considering L.A.'s starters combined for just 24 points.
Misses: The Lakers had 18 turnovers leading to 17 points for Chicago.
Steve Nash left the game early with nerve irritation in his left leg.
Jordan Farmar did not play as a precautionary measure because of hamstring tightness. He is considered day-to-day.
Stat of the game: 17. That's the combined number of healthy bodies the Bulls and Lakers had for the game.
Up next: The Lakers host Utah on Tuesday and Oklahoma City on Thursday before, mercifully, being given four days off to rest up and hopefully get some players healthy for the final 29 games of the season.
Happy 40th birthday, Steve Nash:
Steve Nash's strict diet that has aided him in extending his NBA career into its 18th season probably wouldn't permit him to celebrate his 40th birthday with a big ol' slab of birthday cake so he had to settle for a win against the Philadelphia 76ers instead. Nash led L.A. with 19 points, scoring the most points for a 40-year-old since Karl Malone scored 20 for the Lakers on April 1, 2004, and chipped in five assists and four rebounds, mixing in a highlight-reel shimmy-shake on Evan Turner and a teardrop jumper to ice the game late.
Lakers survive some controversy in Cleveland:
In one of the most bizarre finishes to an NBA game, the Lakers closed out their 119-108 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers with only four eligible players on the roster. Thanks to a little-known NBA rule, Robert Sacre was allowed to stay in the game for the final minutes even though he had already fouled out because the Lakers didn't have any other healthy players available. Steve Blake, playing in only his second game back from a right elbow injury, hit two big 3-pointers down the stretch to lift L.A. to the win, finishing with a triple-double line of 11 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds.
Jordan Farmar's return is short-lived:
The good news about Farmar's return against the Cavaliers after being out since Dec. 31 because of a left hamstring tear? He came out sharp as a tack, racking up 21 points on 8-for-15 shooting (including going 5-for-8 from 3), along with eight assists and two steals. The bad news? He played 33 minutes and the extended work load took its toll as he ended the game on the bench with a cramp in his left calf which led to tightness in that left hamstring again. After the fact, coach Mike D'Antoni said he tried to sub out Farmar for Wesley Johnson in the third quarter, but Johnson was in the bathroom at the time. Yikes. Farmar went back to being sidelined after the Cavs game and his status is day-to-day.
Injuries continue to mount:
As if Farmar going out at the end of the Cavs game wasn't enough, the Lakers lost Nick Young just before halftime as he twisted his left knee trying to avoid contact with Cleveland's C.J. Miles while trying to finish a fast break opportunity. Young went in for an MRI exam and was diagnosed with a non-displaced fracture of the patella and a bone bruise in his left knee and will miss a minimum of two weeks. Add in Jodie Meeks suffering a severely sprained right ankle this past week and Pau Gasol (right groin strain) and Xavier Henry (bone bruise in his right knee) having their timelines for return extended -- not to mention Kobe Bryant continuing to miss time because of his left knee injury -- and it's plain to see how much injuries have hurt this team.
Minnesota runs roughshod over the Lakers' defense:
The Lakers' defense has had its struggles this season -- those three straight games it gave up 120 points or more in January leading to three straight losses come to mind -- but even though it allowed "only" 109 points in a loss to Minnesota, it looked just about as bad as it has ever been. L.A. allowed Minnesota to score 38 points in the first quarter en route to a long night when both Kevin Martin (32 points) and Kevin Love (31) hit the 30-point plateau, Minnesota shot 8-for-17 from 3 (47.1 percent) and led by as many as 25 before settling in for a comfortable 10-point victory.
For the Lakers, they thought they had acquired perhaps the greatest pick-and-roll tandem of all time in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard and would pair them with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol to get the team back on a championship trajectory.
Both plans went woefully awry, of course.
After Bynum said, "I'm really looking forward to making this my home," at his block party-like introductory news conference, he ended up not playing a single game during the season he spent in the City of Brotherly Love.
He has since found homes in Cleveland and Indiana, and whispers of Bynum's failed marriage with Philadelphia still echoed throughout the Wells Fargo Center on Friday, with one league source sharing how Bynum would often park one of his luxury cars in the reserved space for Ed Snider, chairman of Comcast Spectacor -- the company that owns the arena where the Sixers play -- on purpose on game days. The source also passed on the story about the day Bynum showed up at the Sixers' practice facility with a police car following him into the parking lot because he had sped off from a gas station with the pump nozzle still inside of his car and the officer noticed the severed hose flapping alongside the road as Bynum merrily drove along.
Nash's Lakers legacy could have gone the way of Bynum's in Philly. After all, the team mortgaged its future by giving away four future draft picks to acquire the aging point guard, then hired Mike D'Antoni instead of Phil Jackson to maximize his talents, only to see injuries break down his body and contribute to Howard's skipping town to play with a younger backcourt in Houston.
Nash could have succumbed to the circumstances, too. He could have focused on the missed opportunity to finally capture that first championship in an 18-year career. He could have wallowed in the pain that a broken leg in only his second game as a Laker caused him over the next 16 months, as severe nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings set in and made it hard for him to live without discomfort, let alone play basketball against athletes half his age.
PHILADELPHIA -- With the Los Angeles Lakers playing in the City of Brotherly Love on the night Steve Nash turned 40, the story of the game had much more of a Benjamin Button feel than Benjamin Franklin.
Playing in only his second game since missing nearly three months because of nerve root irritation in his back and hamstrings, Nash showed glimpses of the player he once was when he captured back-to-back MVP awards with the Phoenix Suns, helping the Lakers to a 112-98 win over the Philadelphia 76ers.
There was Nash making magic happen with his handle, slashing to the hoop for an ooh-and-aah-inspiring finger roll in the second quarter. And there was him finding Wesley Johnson with a behind-the-back feed in the third quarter to set up a go-ahead 3-pointer.
There was the 40-year-old looking like a 20-year-old in the fourth quarter, springing up off the bench to congratulate his teammates as they were making a run to grab hold of the game.
There was Nash wrapping a bow around L.A.'s much-needed win with an 18-foot, step-back, teardrop jumper with 2:38 to go to give him 17 points -- his highest scoring total in eight games this season. He would finish with 19, five assists and four rebounds.
There was Nash being subbed out in the final minute and receiving adulation from each and every one of his teammates and coaches as he made his way down the sideline, a happy birthday gift indeed.
How it happened: In the early going it looked as if the Lakers wouldn't be able to build on their win in Cleveland, as the 76ers stormed ahead by nine after the first quarter. L.A. chipped away, outscoring Philly by six in the second quarter and five in the third before using a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to take control.
What it means: Despite the injury bug biting L.A. once again with Nick Young suffering a non-displaced knee fracture in Cleveland, it was a successful trip for the Lakers as they won two of three and received alternating strong performances from Nash, Steve Blake and Jordan Farmar, all of whom made it back on the court after long absences.
Hits: Three starters other than Nash reached double digits in scoring, with Blake finishing with 14 points and eight assists; Johnson finishing with 17 points; and Ryan Kelly following up his career-high 26 points against Cleveland with 15 points and eight rebounds.
Kendall Marshall had seven points and 10 assists in 20 minutes off the bench. He wasn't the only reserve to play well as Chris Kaman (17 points, eight rebounds) and Jordan Hill (14 points, six rebounds) also gave L.A. some depth.
Misses: Farmar did not play as a precautionary measure because of hamstring tightness.
Stat of the game: 13. That's the stingy amount of points L.A.'s defense held Philadelphia to in the fourth quarter.
Up next: The Lakers return to L.A. for practice Saturday before playing three home games in five days against Chicago, Utah and Oklahoma City before the All-Star break.
It was the moment many people in the basketball world first became aware of Rule No. 3, Section I, Part A of the NBA's rulebook.
"Each team shall consist of five players. No team shall be reduced to less than five players. If a player in the game receives his sixth personal foul and all substitutes have already been disqualified, said player shall remain in the game and shall be charged with a personal and team foul. A technical foul also shall be assessed against his team. All subsequent personal fouls, including offensive fouls, shall be treated similarly. All players who have six or more personal fouls and remain in the game shall be treated similarly."
Ignore the archaic language for a second (I could do with never having to hear the word "shall" again after that paragraph) and you'll find the reason why Robert Sacre (aka "said player") was allowed to stay in the game with 3:32 remaining in the fourth quarter, even though he just picked up his sixth personal foul, which normally would foul a player out of the game.
Did coach Mike D'Antoni know what was going to happen when Sacre picked up his sixth foul?
"Yeah ," D'Antoni said with his voice trailing off and his eyes letting reporters know he wasn't being truthful. "Not really. But it’s a nice rule."
"I never knew when you fouled out, you could go back in," 11-year veteran Chris Kaman said. "I never knew that was a rule. So, I had my shoes untied and I was like lying down on the bench because we had like a really long bench. There was like 30 feet of extra space."
Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis and trainer Gary Vitti, who began their respective NBA careers in 1981-82, both said they had never seen anything like that before.
Said Jordan Farmar: "I didn't even know half the rules that just went into effect right now."
"I've never heard of it," Steve Blake added. "It's crazy. But it was a fun way to finish it off."
CLEVELAND -- Despite the Los Angeles Lakers coming into Wednesday night's game against the Cleveland Cavaliers with just eight healthy bodies available to play, coach Mike D'Antoni refused to use injuries as a crutch.
"We can play better, and we need to concentrate on that and not worry about the other stuff we can’t control," D'Antoni said with a little defiance, perhaps a little hopefulness. "Our guys are going to battle through it, and we’re just trying to stay positive and get better -- individually better and the team better -- and every game try to make a win out of it."
And the Lakers made D'Antoni look prophetic, for a little while, at least.
They tied their season high with 36 points in the first quarter and then set a new season high with 70 points in the first half, shooting 62.5 percent from the field as a team in the process. They led by 21 at the break.
But then Nick Young twisted his left knee on a fast break and did not return, and L.A. was down to seven players.
And then Chris Kaman fouled out, and the Lakers were down to six.
And then Jordan Farmar felt something tighten up in his left calf, and they were down to five.
And then Robert Sacre fouled out with 3:32 to go and the Lakers were down to five? Still? Sacre was allowed to stay in the game by virtue of a little-known NBA rule that requires teams to keep five players on the court at all times, even if a player has fouled out. The Cavs were simply rewarded a technical foul on top of Sacre's sixth personal foul and play continued on.
"I've never seen this situation before!!" Pau Gasol tweeted as he followed along from L.A. "Did anybody know about this rule!?"
It was bizarre. It was extraordinary. It was par for the course for this topsy-turvy Lakers season.
Steve Nash, who was supposed to have the night off, even scrambled to put on a jersey and get back to the bench in case the Lakers needed him.
They didn't need him. They actually won, breaking their seven-game losing streak.
How it happened: The Cavs cut the Lakers' 29-point lead all the way down to eight with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter, but Blake hit two 3-pointers in the final minutes to keep L.A. afloat.
What it means: Sure, the Lakers almost blew a huge lead, and, true, they allowed a 16th straight opponent to score 100-plus points. But they somehow pulled it off and got the win despite some serious adversity.
Hits: Blake finished with a triple-double with 11 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists.
Farmar had 21 points and eight assists in his first game since Dec. 31 because of a left hamstring tear.
Ryan Kelly scored a career-high 26.
Wes Johnson kept up his strong road trip with 20 points and nine rebounds.
L.A. shot 18-for-37 from 3 as a team (48.6 percent).
Misses: Both Jodie Meeks (right ankle sprain) and Jordan Hill (neck strain) missed their first game all season long by sitting out against Cleveland. They had been the only Lakers players to appear in every game this season up to that point.
The Lakers were outrebounded 57-40.
Stat of the game: 6-for-6. That's what L.A. started from 3 as a team.
Up next: The Lakers close out their three-game road trip Friday in Philadelphia against the 76ers. They have an off day Thursday.