Archives For Steve Blake

The news hit right before game time — Steve Blake was actually in his warm-ups and was ready to play against the Rockets — but in an instant the third longest tenured Laker (behind Kobe and Pau) was a Laker no more. Blake was shipped off to the Warriors in a 2-for-1 trade that netted the team young swingmen MarShon Brooks and Kent Bazemore.

The mechanics of the deal aren’t as straight forward as you’d think, but Amin Elhassan of ESPN summed up the deal as three separate trades:

  1. Steve Blake traded to the Warriors into a Traded Player Exception (TPE)
  2. MarShon Brooks traded to the Lakers into a TPE
  3. Kent Bazemore traded to the Lakers into a minimum salary exception

Those are the mechanics, the business side of this. Of course, that’s not the only part of a deal like this.

I, for one, will miss Steve Blake a great deal. Others may not feel this way and it is somewhat understandable when you consider the full picture of his time as a Laker. Blake was brought in as a $4 million/year point guard who was supposed to fit into the template as an ideal Triangle point guard. He had a reputation as a shooter, but not necessarily a playmaker and was supposed to thrive as an off-ball worker in Phil Jackson’s scheme. It didn’t play out that way, however. Blake had his moments under Phil, but never really flashed the consistency or high level three point shooting the team was hoping to get. That, combined with his salary, had fans turning on him early in his tenure and never really coming around on him as a player with value.

Which is a shame. Because while Blake’s salary should be a factor in how he’s viewed as a performer, what I saw when he played was someone who always gave his all while on the floor, always talked about the success of the team as his number one priority, and always carried a chip on his shoulder with an extra level of competitiveness that isn’t always seen in players — even at this level. He never wilted from a big moment, never blamed a teammate when something went wrong, and never did anything less than he could to try and help the team win. If that meant playing out of position at shooting guard, he’d do it. If it meant coming off the bench or having his minutes cut, he’d accept that too. Blake is the type of teammate everyone respects and the type of player who coaches love to have on their side.

The hardest part about trading Blake now is that he had finally come into his own as a contributor in a scheme that seemed to suit his skills best. Unlike the off-ball work he was asked to do under Phil Jackson and Mike Brown, Blake had the ball in his hands under Mike D’Antoni and was showing what he could do with the added responsibility. He proved he could make plays for his teammates in both the half court and when running the fast break. He also showed that he really could shoot well enough to be a long range threat. Blake had his best games under this head coach. Now he will try to do the same for Mark Jackson out in Oakland.

I wish him nothing but the best moving forward.

And speaking of moving forward, the players the Lakers got in this deal fit the profile of players they’ve been chasing for the past year. Brooks isn’t a former lottery pick, but he’s a former first round pick who has flashed an ability to score the ball well. His rookie season saw him score over 12 points a game while playing about 29 minutes per night. Since that point, however, he’s seen his minutes and production dip. In his 2nd season with the Nets he only played 12.5 minutes per night and in stints with the Celtics and Warriors this year he’s only appeared in 17 total games. Brooks’ issues seem to lie most with his shot selection and his ability to play NBA level defense. The latter is an issue most young players have, but that doesn’t alleviate the concern. The former is an issue that can also be aided with coaching, but that doesn’t mean it actually will be. Some players are what they are and never really grow out of the habits that they’ve had most of their basketball playing lives.

Whether Brooks is one of those players or not remains to be seen. But know that the Lakers acquired him to get a long look at whether he is redeemable as a player and whether the promise he showed as a rookie can be harnessed again. Brooks, after all, is only 25 and is only in his 3rd year. He is entering his prime and whatever skill he has is about to be combined with what should be his peak physical years. The Lakers, like they did with Xavier Henry and Wes Johnson and Kendall Marshall, are hoping he can show why he was a first round pick in the first place and do it under their watch.

As for Bazemore, he’s had a winding road to the NBA, going undrafted and then having spent time in the D-league trying to round his game into form. He’s probably best known for his legendary sideline celebrations, but he’s also been a summer league demon and flashed an ability to use his athleticism and physical gifts to look like a capable a pro. The issue is, however, that he hasn’t shown the skill level to match his physical tools and that has left him out of the Warriors’ rotation the past two seasons. This past summer they experimented with him as a point guard and tried to rework his jumper to get him to be a compliment to Steph Curry, allowing Steph to play off the ball more offensively and guard the lesser of the two guards defensively. That, though, never materialized and now the Warriors have turned to Steve Blake to do that job (after also failing with Toney Douglass and, to a lesser extent, Jordan Crawford).

If Bazemore is really going to stick in this league it will have to be as a “three and D” perimeter player in the half court and a guy who is opportunistic and a strong finisher in the open court. His defensive potential is enormous as he has great length and enough foot speed to guard three positions. That, like Brooks’ offensive talent, must be harnessed, though, if he is to become a rotation player in this league. Just as his offense will need to be at least replacement level. It’s one thing to have a somewhat broken jumper if you play Tony Allen level defense — but even that is getting harder to do as spacing has become so crucial in the league — but Bazemore is nowhere near that level now. So he must refine his offensive game so he can be a somewhat capable half court player. Because if he doesn’t, he’ll find himself sitting on the bench a lot in Los Angeles, just as he did in Oakland.

The Lakers will give him his shot, though. And he has some potential to make a wise man out of a gambler.

All in all, then, what these trades do is signal the continued transition of this team, in this season. Trading Blake means salary savings and a peek at two young players who have some promise. It maintains financial flexibility moving forward and, at least in the short term, actually adds healthy players to the rotation for coaches to evaluate. I can’t say from a management perspective I am mad at this approach. It is hard to see a player you like leave, however. And with the trade deadline nearly here, I don’t think it will be the last time I say that today.

Sunday night marked the arrival of a new, long-term houseguest in Lakerland – the ghost of roster future.

In the absence of Kobe Bryant – a scenario initially not expected to come to fruition for handful of years – all eyes will be on Dwight Howard to recapture his MVP form of years past and anchor the team at the both ends of the floor. In short, after having the luxury to allow Howard to acclimate to his new surroundings and battle back from injuries at his own pace, the Lakers now need their franchise center to act the part. Sunday night marked Howard’s first game as the team’s long-term anchor, and Dwight delivered, devastating the Spurs to the tune of 26 points, 17 rebounds (6 offensive) and three blocks (plus a dubious goaltending call on a Tim Duncan hook I the lane), flashing his once-unrivaled speed and power in the post, and truly dominating on the glass. The result from a team perspective was no less encouraging, as the Lakers, in the maiden voyage without their superstar and leader, took a major step in sealing the postseason berth has at times seemed so elusive, with a 91-86 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.

However, Dwight was not alone in elevating his game in Kobe’s absence. Steve Blake turned in crowning performance as a Laker, connecting on four of eight 3-point attempts en route to 23 points, to which he added five rebounds, four assists and a pair of steals. Providing a much-needed spark off of the bench was Antawn Jamison, who kicked in 15 points, burying three of five 3-pointers himself, and grabbed six rebounds in 20 minutes of burn. Lending additional support were Jodie Meeks, who despite hitting just three of 11 shots, hit a massive pair of 4th quarter 3-pointers, as well as Pau Gasol, who simply could not get a thing to drop. However, despite a putrid 3-for-17 showing from the field, Pau left a positive mark on the game with 16 rebounds (5 offensive) and three blocked shots of his own.

It must be said that the Spurs were far from their best on Sunday night, with just two (Tim Duncan and Matt Bonner) of 10 players that took the floor making at least half of their shots. Duncan, though outquicked by Dwight in the early going and unable to keep him off of the glass, played a fantastic game, scoring 23 points on 11-of-22 shooting (including a pair of thunderous throwdowns in the second half), grabbing 10 rebounds, handing out four assists and swatting three shots. Of historical significance, with his final bucket of the night, the greatest power forward the league has ever seen ran his career tally to 23,759, good for 22nd on the NBA’s all-time list, two points ahead of the previous holder of that distinction, Charles Barkley. Unfortunately for Duncan, who, like pre-injury Kobe, is more than a decade and half in and still playing some of the best ball of his career (24.4 PER, 21.2 points and 11.8 rebounds per 36 minutes and career-best defensive rebound and block rates), he received little support from his normally reliable running mates.

Chief among the struggling Spurs were Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard, who shot a combined 2-for-15 from the floor (1-for-10 for Parker, 1-for-5 for Leonard) and combined for just 12 points, though it worth noting that the duo combined for 11 rebounds and 12 assists. Also, despite managing a double-double of his own (11 and 10), Tiago Splitter missed eight of the 13 shots he attempted, more than a couple of which were seemingly easy layups. Danny Green managed an identical 5-for-13 from the field, hitting just two of seven 3-point attempts, while Nando de Colo, Cory Joseph and DeJuan Blair managed just four points on 2-for-11 shooting. Now, it’s clearly unreasonable to expect two of the Spurs’ top three starters to shoot worse than 15% from the field while one of their starting bigs blows numerous chances at the rim, but a fair amount of credit is owed to the Lakers’ perimeter defenders, who challenged the Spurs’ on their 3-point attempts, forced an inordinate number of long 2-point jump shots and, in perhaps the greatest testament to their performance, held the Spurs to a single unsuccessful corner 3-point attempt.

That the sustainability of some of the offensive efforts can be called into question, and the Spurs did little to help themselves in a game that was certainly winnable are true, but tonight, wholly irrelevant. With the playoffs in the balance, in the absence of their emotional talisman and offensive catalyst, the Lakers put forth excellent effort at both ends, and ultimately had enough to gut out a massive victory against an elite Spurs team playing for its own playoff positioning, setting the stage for a win-and-you’re-in showdown with the Houston Rockets Wednesday night at Staples.

 

Well, that was fun.

A year after a playoff home opener in which they were brutally craved up by Chris Paul and after a(nother) regular season in which a double-digit leads made frequent cameos but were often unable to carry a show, on Sunday the Lakers physically dominated an overmatched foe in a manner that was expected, but conspicuously absent for much of the campaign. In what can only be called an ideal playoff opener, the Lakers, powered by an aggressive defense and some timely outside shooting, opened up an early double digit lead and – with the exception of a couple of barely perceptible blips – cruised to a 103-88 Game 1 victory over the Nuggets.

The Lakers were sparked by an glorious (or terrifying, depending our your perspective) defensive performance from Andrew Bynum (an NBA playoff record 10 blocked shots and the Lakers’ first postseason triple-double since Magic in 1991), sustained by a trio of outstanding postseason debuts and some timely long-range strike form Steve Blake, and capped by a blinding barrage from Kobe Bryant (9-of-14 after halftime, including 14 straight Laker points in 4:31 of the fourth quarter). Lest you forget, Pau Gasol was in attendance as well, looking every bit the part of “world’s most skilled big,” with 13 points (including a 3-pointer), 8 rebounds, 8 assists and a pair of blocked shots of his own. It was an all-around solid playoff opener, setting the tone for what should be a fairly businesslike – if more competitive – series.

This is not to say that ‘Drew will swat 11% (!!) of Denver’s shot attempts from the sky, Jordan hill double-doubles (10 and 10, with 4 offensive boards) are the new norm, nor that Devin Ebanks ought to be blindly penciled in for an ultra-efficient 12 (5-of-6 FG, 2-of-2 FT) each night (incidentally, the Lakers’ third playoff debutante, Ramon Sessions, turned in a completely replicable 14, on 6-of-11, and 5 assists). It would also be foolish to ignore the fact that, while Bynum impromptu block party dramatically dented the Nuggets’ composure in the paint (per Hoopdata, just 48.8% on shots at the rim and 13.4% from 3-9 feet out), the Lakers’ perimeter defenders did an atrocious job of keeping Denver out of the paint. The Nuggets attempted a whopping 54 shots from within nine feet, 39 of those from point blank range, more than half those by non-bigs Danilo Gallinari (5-of-8 at the rim), Andre Miller (4-of-8) and Al Harrington (0-of-4). If the Lakers are unable to prevent penetration into the lane – and remember, strong, speedy Ty Lawson was a non-factor on Sunday – in addition to probably making more than half of their shots at the rim, it’s possible that the Nuggets will be aided by a bit of gamesmanship from coach George Karl, whose postgame comments included a barb about Bynum’s “illegal” defense. Don’t be surprised if ‘Drew is clipped early with a Defensive 3 Seconds call, and forced to slightly alter his approach.

Additionally, as Karl himself suggested in the huddle – and as anyone that watched Sunday’s game will attest – the Nuggets entered Game 1 neither properly engaged mentally nor committed to pushing the breakneck pace that has been their calling card all season. A stronger showing from the starting backcourt (Lawson and Arron Afflalo shot a combined 6-of-22 and missed all five of their 3-point attempts), Al Harrington and Andre Miller (who actually had a great all-around game off the bench, with 12 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists) combined to hit more than a third of their shots and continued efficiency and activity from the starting frontcourt of Gallinari (7-of-14, 19 points) and the Manimal, Kenneth Faried (4-of-8, 10 points, 8 rebounds and so. much. energy.) ought to make Game 2 a more competitive affair.

With all of that said, however, the blueprint with which the Lakers can look to exploit their advantages over an undersized opponent remain very much in place. With a commitment to pounding the ball inside to Bynum, Gasol and Kobe, controlling the tempo and turning the Nuggets into a halfcourt team on offense and limiting turnovers (a season-long bugaboo; they had just 11 in Game 1), Game 2, while more competitive, should mirror Game 1 in its result. Prior to the playoffs I’d predicted a six-game Lakers victory in this series. I now have a tough time seeing the Nuggets pushing this matchup past five games.

Box Score: Lakers 109, Mavericks 93
Offensive Efficiency: Lakers 123.9, Mavericks 105.7
True Shooting %: Lakers 68.2%, Mavericks 53.5%

On the heels of a brutal come-from-ahead loss in Houston on Tuesday night, the Lakers wrapped up their Texas two-step in Dallas, where the defending champs and administrators of last spring’s postseason humiliation awaited. More tough sledding ahead? Not so much.

The Good: Practically everything. For starters, you know how all season the “Bad” and “Ugly” sections of these reviews have lamented the Lakers’ inability to a) connect from the outside and b) generate any kind of meaningful production off of the bench? Well, on Wednesday night, the Lakers made a phenomenal 50% of their 18 3-point attempts, six of them by bench players. Speaking of which, the Lakers’ bench was outscored by its Mavs’ counterpart by just two points, 38-36, staggering given we’re talking about, y’know, the Lakers’ bench.

In the starting unit, deadly efficiency ruled the day, as Kobe Bryant, operating within the confines of the offense, scored 30 on 11-of-18 from the floor (and 7-of-7 FT), peppering the Mavs from mid-range all night. Meanwhile, Pau Gasol was absolutely masterful. Pau played one of, if not his best game of the season, connecting on 13 of his 16 shots en route to 27 points (to which he added 9 rebounds). Gasol was unstoppable on Wednesday night, not only making 6-of-7 in the paint, but doing significant damage from the outside as well, shooting 8-of-10 from outside the key, including a perfect 7-of-7 from 17-20 feet between the elbow and success on his only 3-point attempt.

Finally, we have Ramon Sessions. Much to the chagrin of the fans of Cleveland, Sessions has sent shockwaves through Lakerland, providing us with a glimpse into a life that heretofore might as well have existed in another galaxy. Not since the days of Nick Van Exel have Laker fans had a young and explosive point guard at the helm. On Wednesday night, Ramon Sessions played the point guard game that this fan base has desperately been waiting for. In 29 minutes, divided into two extended stretches, Ramon was a revelation, connecting on 7 of 8 shots, including 3-of-4 from beyond the arc for his 17 points, grabbing 5 rebounds and handing out 9 assists.

Every bit as impressive as his phenomenal stat line was his role in the Lakers’ offense, which only really came to life when he was on the floor. Sessions’ greatest assets are his quickness and speed off the dribble, which he utilized beautifully, starting almost immediately after entering the game with just under five minutes remaining in the first quarter, knifing into the lane and, with excellent decision-making, setting up open jump shots for teammates for each of his 9 assists, including four in a two-minute span late in the first quarter.

We’ve got a point guard!

The Bad: With the third member of their underperforming trio now spending his evenings trying to reign in Russell Westbrook, the “subpar stat line” onus was on Metta World Peace and Steve Blake. Now, truth be told neither of these guys was a complete disaster against the Mavs – MWP managed 4 rebounds, 3 assists and a blocked shot in 25 minutes, while Blake, Mike Brown’s starting point guard “for the foreseeable future,” had two pair, assists and steals, in 17 minutes on the floor – but a combined 7 points on 2-of-9 shooting, even with no turnovers, in 42 minutes is, how can I put this gently, kinda stinky.

The Ugly: Thanks to his averages of 23.7 points and 12.3 rebounds over the last 10 games, Andrew Bynum was obviously a focal point in the Mavericks’ defensive game plan. In the game’s opening minute Bynum grabbed a defensive rebound and converted a pretty reverse layup at the other end. However, rather than building on this dominating this contest the way he has so many of late, that play was the last one of consequence from the big man for some time.

Bynum was (understandably) the target of aggressive double and triple teams on every post touch from that point forward, and was unable to deliver the ball to the open man in a timely or effective manner. This strategy proved particularly effective for the Mavs in the first half, as the Lakers’ perimeter players frequently cut baseline after delivering the ball to Bynum down low. This tactic actually simplified the Mavs’ task, as they doubled aggressively off of the cutter, giving ‘Drew fits and preventing the Lakers from ever establishing him as an offensive threat.

However, the ugliness in Bynum’s performance on Wednesday night is not the result of Mavs’ defense pressuring him into an inefficient offensive game (he was 4-of-5 from the field) or sloppy effort passing out of the post (he didn’t turn the ball over once), but in Andrew’s generally lackadaisical effort. Far too often on Wednesday, Bynum was boxed out on both the offensive and defensive glass by smaller player that have no business doing so. Far too often he jogged back on offense, often not setting up inside the 3-point arc until 10+ seconds of the possession were gone. Perhaps the best example of this lackluster effort came in the first quarter, when, attempting to guard Dirk Nowitzki on the perimeter, Bynum not only failed to get into a defensive stance, but barely had a chance to turn around as the Mavs’ (by far) most potent offensive threat blew by him for a layup.

This is by no means a chronic issue and all’s well that ends well, but for a guy whose untimely ejection set the stage for crushing come-from-ahead loss the night before, Andrew Bynum spent far too much time on Wednesday play with little-to-no spark at all.

Play of the Game: With all of that said, Andrew Bynum linked up with fellow big Pau Gasol with about eight minutes left in the game – this time successfully passing out of a double team – firing a cross-court kick-out to the right corner, from which Pau buried a three-point dagger that put the Lakers ahead 90-76.

On its own this play would not be worthy of PoG, but the brazen, villainous confidence of ‘Drew made it truly memorable. In front of the crowd that is more eager than any other to see him fail (he did, after try to break their gelled-up midget 10 months ago), after making the pass to Gasol, Bynum made his way back down the floor with the ball still in the air, three fingers held aloft for all to see.

Badass.

Unfortunately for the Laker bigs, however, the top spot belong to one Kobe Bean Bryant, who, midway through the third quarter, received a lob from Pau Gasol and finished in a manner that can only be described as sublime.

Records: Lakers: 26-16 (3rd in West), Hornets: 10-32 (15th in West)
Offensive ratings: Lakers: 104.1 (14th in NBA), Hornets: 99.1 (29th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers: 101.4 (9th in NBA), Hornets: 104.9 (17th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Hornets: Jarrett Jack, Marco Belinelli, Al-Farouq Aminu, Gustavo Ayon, Chris Kaman
Injuries: Lakers: none; Hornets: Eric Gordon (out), Emeka Okafor (out), Carl Landry (questionable)

The Lakers Coming In: On the eve of a trade deadline that is looks to be less eventful than originally expected, I imagine one question more than any other is ricocheting inside the heads of much of Laker Nation… how the hell is this season going so well?

Amid an unrelenting barrage of speculation and innuendo, the Lakers, on the heels of the season’s most impressive road victory, cruise into the Crescent City winners of three straight and seven of ten, two games clear of the Clippers for the Pacific Division’s top spot and two behind the Spurs for #2 in the West. Behind a monstrous effort from Andrew Bynum (37 points, on 15-of-18 from the field, and 16 rebounds), a strong showing by Steve Blake (9-5-5, with three 3-pointers) a 34-9-5 from Kobe Bryant, the Lakers successfully kicked off a vital 20-day stretch –12 games, all against Western Conference opposition, eight featuring opponents currently less than three games out of a playoff spot. This is one of the gimmes.

Unfortunately, Laker teams of the past (like, last week) have assembled an impressive legacy of stumbling in games exactly like this one…

The Hornets Coming In: On this night, however, the Lakers encounter an opponent with interests perfectly aligned with their own.

From the moment in December that Chris Paul was Western-bound, the Hornets sights were set squarely on the lottery. A seemingly foolproof plan to secure two of the first 10 selections in June’s draft fizzling further with each Timberwolves win, it is now more important than ever for these Hornet to maintain their focus and probe as deep into the standing as possible. Winners of less than a quarter of their 42 games, the Hornets – despite the best efforts of Jarrett Jack, surprise rookie Gustavo Ayon and, when allowed, Chris Kaman – ensconced in the Western Conference cellar, will have their sights set on the lofty depths currently inhabited by the Washington Wizards and Charlotte Bobcats, who, respectively, trail the Nola by one and four games.

Apologies for the flippancy, but there is precious little drama to be found in the story of a team whose primary objective over the next 20 hours will be to jettison a pair of NBA-caliber (good, even!) centers in exchange for as little as possible.

Hornets Blogs: Both At The Hive and Hornets247 do an excellent job covering the Hornets. Give these guys a read.

Keys to the Game: Show up. Sorry, there I go again.

The Hornets’ three biggest strengths – an immense body in the middle capable of making Andrew Bynum works for his touches, a physical point guard and a long and athletic wing defender – do happen to coincide with the to-do list for defeating the Lakers. Additionally, Wednesday night represents the trio’s final opportunity to showcase their respective abilities to potential saviors, err, acquirers, prior to the deadline.

But seriously, provided the Lakers are mentally present and focused on Wednesday night, there is no reason to expect anything other than an uneventful, businesslike victory.

Where You Can Watch: 5pm start time on KCAL. Also listen at ESPN Radio 710AM.