Kendall Marshall offers solid starting debut in Lakers’ win over Utah

 Los Angeles Lakers Kendall Marshall (C) drives to the basket against the Utah Jazz in the first half action of their NBA game at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California USA, 03 January 2014.  EPA/PAUL BUCK CORBIS

Los Angeles Lakers Kendall Marshall (C) drives to the basket against the Utah Jazz in the first half action of their NBA game at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California USA, 03 January 2014. EPA/PAUL BUCK CORBIS

A life-changing event in two weeks. A perception altering moment in one game. A journey that Kendall Marshall hopes will extend past the euphoria surrounding a rare Lakers win, a 110-99 victory Friday over the Utah Jazz at Staples Center.

Marshall posted 20 points on 8-of-12 shooting and 15 assists, and the significance brought a whole lot of meaning. It helped the Lakers (14-19) snap a six-game losing streak. Marshall’s play brought temporary relief to a point guard position battered by injuries to Kobe Bryant (left foot), Steve Nash (back), Steve Blake (right elbow), Jordan Farmar (left hamstring) and Xavier Henry (right knee).

Marshall’s effort marked the first time a Laker posted at least 20 points and 15 assists since Bryant did so Feb. 2002 against Washington. The performance provided a markedly different picture than when Marshall was plucked from the Development League 15 days ago and offered little confidence for Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni actually to play him.

“Oh yeah, we had this programmed,” D’Antoni said jokingly. “He had an opportunity and today he made the most of it.”

Marshall sure did.

He opened the game canning his first three-point attempt. Marshall ended the game making another three-pointer that ensured a 102-94 lead with 45.7 seconds left. In between, Marshall provided a dazzling array of passes to teammates, a wide range of drives to the basket and open jumpers and smooth ball handling that made it almost easy to forget the Lakers have six injured point guards.

Add it all up, and the Lakers’ success against Utah mirrored a famous movie title.

We Are Marshall.

“Things have happened kind of fast,” Marshall admitted. “But I’m still humbled by the situation. I just want to keep it going.”

To keep it going, Marshall has gained motivation from any slight imaginable stemmed from becoming a first-round washout. After Phoenix selected him with the 13th pick in the 2012 Draft, Marshall was sent to the Wizards in a trade. Washington then cut him before the season started, leaving the 22-year-old former North Carolina product toiling with the Delaware 87ers of the NBA’s Development League.

So Marshall took aim at Utah point guard Trey Burke, a rookie of the year candidate who only finished with 6 points on 3 of 15 shooting. Marshall remembered how the Jazz cut guard Jamaal Tinsley, leaving an open guard spot that ultimately went to Diante Garrett. Marshall then looked at his cell phone for reasons not including text messaging, Twitter or Instagram.

“I made a list of things in my phone and things that drive me that people said I couldn’t do,” Marshall said. “I recite those things to me every single day.”

What are those things?

“A couple of things,” Marshall said. “They say you can’t shoot. They say you’re too slow. They say you can’t defend. Those are things I’m trying to get better at.”

Marshall has done that.

In his last game with the 87ers, Marshall had 11 points, 11 assists and six turnovers in a loss to the Fory Wayne Mad Ants. In his first game with the Lakers, Marshall posted three points and four turnovers in six minutes. All the while, D’Antoni remained reluctant in even playing him meaningful minutes despite the team’s depleted backcourt.

But six games, five morning shootarounds and five practices later, Marshall suddenly morphed into a different player.

“It’s a big moment for somebody in their life,” D’Antoni said. “Let me see, ‘Do I go back to D-League or I stay up in the NBA?’ That’s a lot of pressure.”

Unsolicited, D’Antoni then brought up a player that became a overwhelming feel good story during an otherwise depressing time when he coached the New York Knicks two years ago.

“He wasn’t comfortable, didn’t know what we were running and didn’t know the guys. You throw him out there,” D’Antoni said. “I’m not making a comparison but Jeremy Lin did the exact same thing.”

Much remains to be seen whether Marshall will create the same buzz in Los Angeles as Lin did in New York. But for one night at least, Marshall fulfilled that job description.

“My teammates do a good job with me communicating with me on every single play, telling me what they see and I’m telling them what I see,” Marshall said. “When that happens, it makes things a lot easier.”

The Lakers seemed just as eager in dishing the praise back.

D’Antoni gushed about Marshall’s basketball smarts and how it only takes him one set of instructions to grasp concepts. D”Antoni largely credited how Marshall’s presence for creating a rhythm that sparked endless ball movement. Shawne Williams, who posted 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting, gushed about Marshall’s passes, detailing them with descriptive adjectives, such as “clean,” “swift” and “crisp.”

“It’s not like he didn’t rush into nothing,” Williams said. “The first couple of games he just let it come to him. He sit there and learned through practice and he learned more and more. It’s like he’s becoming more of a point guard. He’s being a point guard and a leader.”

And now that he’s developed those characteristics, Marshall sounds more eager in maintaining those qualities than relishing about it. After all, Marshall still has a contract worth $547,570 that doesn’t become fully guaranteed until after Jan. 10 should he stay on the roster. Marshall still remembers the uncertainty when he toiled in the D-League. He still feels the frustration on how his heightened expectations entering the NBA initially flamed out.

Yet, the past two weeks has changed his life. This past game has altered his perception. And delivering the Lakers a victory delivered an euphoria that hadn’t existed for the past six games.

“Everything happens for a reason. I’m thankful for the way things turned out,” Marshall said. “Now I just want to make the most of it with this team.”


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