Monday Practice Roundup

Steve Blake Impact
Coach Mike D’Antoni only had high praise for guard Steve Blake at his introductory press conference back in mid-November.

The first-year Lakers coach acknowledged every summer he so desired for the 6-foot-3 combo guard to be on his roster.

“I’ve been trying to get him for 10 years,” D’Antoni said. “We always tried to get him; I think he’s perfect for our system.”

But even then, D’Antoni had to wait for Blake to suit up in uniform. The Maryland product had suffered what was originally diagnosed as an abdominal strain against Detroit on Nov. 4. Further complications then led to surgery, for which Blake was sidelined more than 10 weeks.

Prior to his return, Kobe Bryant conceded in late January they had been missing their backup point guard.

“The most important thing that we’ve been missing from him is his competitiveness,” he explained. “He’s a feisty dude and we need that here.”

His return to the court has also coincided with L.A.’s recent run of strong play, as they’ve won seven of their last 10. Overall, they boast a 5-3 record since he first appeared in a game under D’Antoni against New Orleans at home on Jan. 29. Most notably, his impact on the defensive end has been evident.

Prior to Pau Gasol being sidelined with a tear in his plantar fascia, the five-man unit of Blake, Bryant, Metta World Peace, Gasol and Dwight Howard boasts a defensive efficiency rating of 91.6 (points allowed per 100 possessions).

In those five wins, the Lakers are allowing 95.8 points on 42.1 percent shooting from the floor – even with Howard absent for three of these contests nursing his sore right shoulder and Gasol one.

Against Brooklyn, Blake spent time guarding both Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, who combined to shoot 9 for 28 from the floor.

His play on offense has come around of late, too.

He scored seven straight points to open the fourth quarter in L.A.’s 92-83 win, affording both Steve Nash and Bryant more rest.

“Being on the court and playing more helped me to better understand the offensive system and made me more confident,” Blake said postgame. “Gaining more knowledge on the court gives me confidence when I take a shot late in the game.“

Lakers Say They’re Feeling Optimistic off the Road Trip
The Lakers returned home from their 7-game, 13-day Grammy road trip with a 4-3 record, yet they remain in 10th place in the Western Conference standings – four games out of the 7th spot and 3.5 out of the 8th position.

“We didn’t gain ground, but we didn’t lose ground, which is always important when you go on the road,” Nash explained. “In some ways, the trip made us stronger and there was some success on the trip. We’re going to keep moving forward as positively as possible.”

Moving forward without Gasol, who underwent surgery after tearing the plantar fascia in his right foot, Bryant acknowledged the importance of missing the 7-foot Spaniard for an extended period.

“I know the significance of Pau (Gasol) being out there, which a lot of people don’t understand,” he said.

This year, the Lakers are 6-10 without Gasol, and opponents are averaging 105.1 points on 46.8 percent from the floor. In the 36 games he’s appeared in, those numbers drop to 98.8 points and 44.4 percent.

Bryant afforded that the team will be forced to adjust – again – in a season where there has been constant change each time the Lakers have started to play well.

“We got injuries every time we put it together,” he explained. “Every time we’re playing well or find a rhythm on how we want to go about things, it seems we’re hit with another injury bug. Now we have to kind of figure out another rhythm of how to play. It’s a constant adjustment.”

With two home games against the Suns, who the Lakers fell to nearly two weeks ago, and the Clippers, the players realize the importance of maintaining their strong play with the All-Star break around the corner.

“These would be two big wins for us, no question,” Nash said. “If we can continue to win two out of every three or three out of four the rest of the way, we can put ourselves in a pretty good place.”