Second-year point guard Darius Morris gathered a loose ball on the defensive end off a Dwight Howard block, took five dribbles and threw an over-the-shoulder hook pass to the trailing big man for a dunk.
“I just tried to reward him,” Morris said post game after the Lakers 119-108 win over the Rockets.
It was one of five assists on the night for the former Michigan product, who, over the last three contests has posted a total of 12 dimes to just four turnovers.
“Credit that to the game slowing down for me,” Morris said. “Getting that experience and comfort level out there has enabled me to see different things now.”
In those three games – all starts – the 6-foot-4 point guard has filled the void in the starting lineup left by Steve Nash, who suffered a non-displaced fracture in his left leg during the team’s second game at Portland, and Steve Blake, who is recovering from an abdominal strain.
“The fact that Nash has been out, the kid has an opportunity to play,” interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff said. “You don’t get experience through osmosis. He’s had an opportunity to play and I think that’s terrific for him and his confidence.”
With four point guards on the current roster to begin the season, Morris never envisioned he’d have such an opportunity like this – at least not this early in the year.
“Things happen for a reason, so you always have to remain positive,” he said. “To say I could call this? No, not at all.”
Yet even in the offseason, Morris prepared himself for such a situation. Despite limited playing time a year ago (19 games), he showed up at the team’s practice facility almost daily in the offseason, working on his jump shot, while also adding 10 pounds of muscle.
“I just work hard,” he said. “That’s one thing I never stop doing.”
The results are showing, too.
Morris posted a career-high 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting (2-of-3 from the 3-point line) against Houston, besting his previous high of 10 less than two weeks ago against Golden State.
“He is playing extremely well,” Kobe Bryant said. “He is playing with a great deal of maturity on both ends of the floor.”
Though Nash is out at least another week and Blake is considered “day-to-day,” the Los Angeles native understands his role. Even when those two return, newly hired head coach Mike D’Antoni envisions the 21-year-old fitting into the rotation.
“It means a lot for a coach to believe in me,” Morris said. “I just got to keep showing him that I deserve to be out there.”