Steve Nash missed a second straight practice as he continues to heal from a strained hamstring/hip strain. After most players had exited the court, though, Nash worked on shooting drills with player development coach Phil Handy.
His status for Friday’s game vs. Memphis is being called “doubtful,” according to coach Mike D’Antoni.
Steve Blake, who has averaged 13 points and four 3-pointers in the last two games, will likely start again.
“It’s been good,” Blake said of playing more minutes in Nash’s absence. “I’ve been able to go out there and get us into some sets that I think will work for us, get Kobe (Bryant) the ball to run pick-and-rolls when we need it, get him off the ball and set off-ball screens for him. Kind of just trying to mix things up and kind of get everybody involved in the game is what I’ve been trying to do.”
Outside of Blake trying to get everybody involved in Nash’s absence, Bryant has returned to more of a facilitating role. Bryant recorded his 19th triple-double – 23 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists – in a 101-81 win vs. Dallas, and also tied his season-high with 14 dimes at Sacramento. That type of production, though, has come with Bryant missing just 79 seconds in the last two games combined.
“It concerns me, but we’re talking about it every day,” D’Antoni explained post practice. “That’s something on the mind of everybody. There’s been some unique situations. We’ve had a couple days off after (Tuesday’s) game. The timeouts were longer and halftime was longer, so we thought about that one, and thought he could get through it. A lot of it is at the moment – how you feel, what’s going on, how the team is feeling.”
Though Bryant has had to carry an extra load, Pau Gasol made his return to the lineup six games ago after sitting out 20 because of a tear in his plantar fascia. In the last four contests, the 7-foot Spaniard has put up nearly 14 points, eight boards and six assists in 34 minutes of action.
“My timing, my legs and my conditioning is getting better,” he said. “Hopefully it’ll continue to be that way. Everything is flowing nicely, so let’s see if we can keep it up.”
Sustaining the same type of defensive effort seen in the last two games against Memphis will be tested with their big frontline of Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
“They’re tough,” Gasol said of Randolph and his younger brother. “They’re both very physical and both very great rebounders. They play together really well and complement each other really well. (Marc) is a great passer and he makes plays for the rest of the team. (Randolph) is a handful inside the paint and he can also face up. They’re a big challenge, so we’ll see we respond.”
Not only do those two pose problems offensively, but the Grizzlies defense ranks first in opponent points per game (89.8) and sixth in opponent field-goal percentage (44.0). In the last four games – all wins – Memphis is holding opponents to 86.5 points and 43.6 percent field goals. And like the Lakers currently fighting for a playoff spot, the Grizzlies are battling Denver for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Lakers have yet to defeat Memphis in two games – both road losses – this season, but with Utah’s loss vs. Denver on Wednesday, L.A. moved back into the No. 8 spot, a half-game ahead of the Jazz. The purple and gold, however, would need to finish one win and one loss better than Utah, since they won the regular-season series.
“Let’s see if we can keep ourselves in that position to have that kind of control,” Gasol said. “We have two tough games coming up – Memphis first and the Clippers on the road next – and two tough opponents that we haven’t been successful against. Let’t see if we can be successful now.”