The Lakers’ backcourt remains in flux, and the reasons go beyond when or won’t Kobe Bryant will return to the lineup.
Take away additional absences to Steve Nash (back) and Jordan Farmar (strained left hamstring), and the Lakers also enter tonight’s game against the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena with only one true point guard on the roster. That responsibility falls to Steve Blake, whose playmaking instincts in Mike D’Antoni’s system has contributed to averaging 10 points and 7.7 assists per game.
But could he play beyond the 31.1 minutes he’s already allotted this season?
“A little bit,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “It depends how it goes and how he is physically. He still is getting over his elbow problems. He looks good, but we don’t want to kill him.”
D’Antoni referred to Blake recently hyper extending his right elbow. Accounts described the injury as minor since Blake played through it within the past week, but it still proved serious enough for Blake to shoot with his off-hand this week until Thursday’s practice.
So to ease Blake’s workload, the Lakers will also depend on Xavier Henry, who posted a career-high 27 points while playing point guard in the Lakers’ 114-108 loss Sunday to the Portland Trail Blazers. Surprising considering the 6-foot-6 Henry lasted played that position when he played four years ago at Putnam City High in Oklahoma City.
“I’m just playing with my instincts,” Henry said. “I know the game so it’s not a totally different view of the game.”
That’s because D’Antoni’s system relies on a simple philosophy in “the ball finds energy.” To ensure that, D’Antoni likes to have interchangeable positions to maximize floor spacing to ensure constant three-pointers and layups. Though D’Antoni would like Pau Gasol to go inside more by rolling to the basket off pick-and-rolls instead of popping out to the perimeter, Gasol can also facilitate the offense up top to attract open three-point shooters.
With the Lakers’ depleted backcourt, could this philosophy help offset such issues?
“We hope so. It makes us long defensively,” D’Antoni said. “There’s some benefits for him playing that way.”
There’s also some disadvantages too.
Though Henry and Jodie Meeks combined for 47 points in the Lakers’ loss to Portland, they mad two consecutive turnovers in the final minutes. Neither has superb ball handling skills.
“I don’t think it was being new to point guard,” Henry said. “Through the flow of the game, you’ll have a turnover. It’s not that big of a deal for me.”
That’s because the Lakers aren’t asking Henry to change much of his game.
Henry played the point guard position this week in practice with the second unit in full-court five-on-five scrimmages. But his individual drills, ranging from ball handling and shooting still remained the same. Instead of trying to reinvent the wheel, Henry stuck with what he knows.
“Just imagine I caught it on the wing and that I’m about to do the same thing,” Henry said regarding how he directs the offense. “It’s like if I’m attacking, I’m attacking still with vision. If I ‘m going to the hole, I’m going to the hole. If it’s a pass, it’s a pass. We all know our plays. I can run the plays from the point guard position. It’s not a big deal.”
But with the Lakers lacking the true point guards that once gave that position some depth, it might turn into a big deal.
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