The noise level reached deafening levels. His Lakers teammates appeared inspired by his unyielding work ethic. And when the Lakers needed a feel-good moment during an otherwise sour season, he provided it.
This man was not Kobe Bryant, whom Lakers coach Byron Scott sat for the fifth time this season to rest the Lakers’ 36-year-old star. The player was Tarik Black, a rookie center that wasted no time in his week providing a strong impression in the Lakers’ 101-84 victory over the Orlando Magic on Friday at Staples Center. That entailed scoring 14 points on 4-of-4 shooting, a 6-of-7 mark from the foul line and nine rebounds in nearly 17 minutes. It provided a worthy encore after producing five points on 2-of-4 shooting and three rebounds in 12 minutes of the Lakers’ loss on Wednesday against the Clippers.
“God has blessed me so much to be put in this position and he’s taken so much control over this thing that I just go out here and give my all to them,” Black said. “At the end of the day, things come out profitable like it did tonight.”
Amid a depressing Lakers season that entails a 12-25 record, fourth worst in the NBA, something divine has emerged. After struggling nearly all season just to field a healthy roster, the Lakers suddenly have enough of a frontcourt that can make Lakers coach Byron Scott more selective with his playing time.
“I’ll Shuffle them in and out,” Scott said. “Whoever plays the hardest and the best plays. It’s pretty simple.”
That explains why Scott inserted Black and Carlos Boozer in for Jordan Hill and Ed Davis with 5:12 left in the third quarter. Hill started at power forward and had 11 points on 5-of-12 shooting and nine rebounds. But Hill only had two points and three rebounds in the third quarter. Davis started at center and posted 10 points on 5-of-8 shooting, 10 rebounds and three blocks. But Davis only had four points and two rebounds in the third quarter.
“I thought Ed and Jordan were walking up and down the floor and looked tired,” Scott said. “So I took them out.”
That moment marked Black’s quick ascension.
He grabbed three rebounds in a two-minute span. Black scored four points within 30 seconds. He then played the entire fourth quarter, his 10 points, five rebounds and two blocks during that time frame complementing a second unit already bolstered by Jeremy Lin (18 points on 5-of-12 shooting, six assists, four steals and five turnovers) and Carlos Boozer (12 points on 6-of-12 shooting and 14 rebounds).
“I play with a lot of energy as far as rebounds go. I seek the ball. When the ball goes up, I go out there and get it,” Black said. “It’s a good thing. We don’t look to one guy rebounding the ball and then the ball starts slipping away. We had everybody hitting the boards hard today. It’s a good thing. I believe it’s contagious.”
So much that the Lakers could not help but feel happy for Black. Lakers forward Nick Young continuously plugged Black’s Twitter account. Even his teammates that earned a temporary demotion because of his effectiveness.
“He’s going to put pressure on us. That’s what I need. I’m up for the challenge,” Davis said. “But we’re still a team and still together. It’s going to be some nights some guys have it rolling. It does a lot. It’s a team and helps us as a team and we need guys to play well to win. We’re not the most talented team. So we need everyone at their best.”
Black has fulfilled that job description.
Scott raved about Black taking full advantage in taking advantage of his athleticism and basketball IQ. He hustled on every play. He studied the playbook well enough that Scott reported Black had zero issues with learning the team’s defensive coverages and offensive sets. Black reported spending every practice shooting at least 100 free throws and playing games of one-on-one against Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen.
Yet, Black strongly downplayed that his emergence will suddenly shake up the Lakers’ frontcourt and earn himself more playing time.
“If that’s what Coach Scott wants, we abide by it,” Black said. “He’s our coach and our leader. We follow our leader. But at the same time that’s not really my mindset. I don’t really apply pressure to myself like that.”
So what does Black do?
“I go out there, play and work hard every time I touch the floor for practice or games. That’s what you’re supposed to do anyway. I’m very competitive by nature,” Black said. “It’s not because I’m looking at the other guy and am like, “I’m going to outdo you and do this to you.’ That applies pressure to yourself. Now I’m going to step out on the floor and I know I’m going to work hard. I get good results when I work hard. As far as the teammates go and creating depth, these are my teammates man. We wear the same jerseys and wear the same goals. Whether you play my position or not, I want to see you shine. I want to see you play 40 minutes and get 20 and 30, whether you’re Booz, Ed or J-Hill, I want to see them shine. I have no animosity in my heart to them. That’s not my mentality at all.”
Instead, Black relies on his Christian faith that has guided him through what he called “a cluster of a year for me.” The undrafted rookie out of Kansas impressed the Houston Rockets by playing 25 games and starting 12 for an injured Dwight Howard. Black averaged 4.2 points on 54.2 percent shooting and 5.1 rebounds before the Rockets waived him to make room for Josh Smith.
“I’m very spiritual and my thing is God brought me this far,” Black said. “I don’t think he brought me this far for me to fail. So when they cut me, it’s a blessing for me to play at Houston. I’m very grateful to play in this organization. No bad blood at all. It’s a business decision. I knew what happened. But it took place .It’s on to the next phase and the next thing to come. That’s the blessing of coming here.”
Black then gushed about the Lakers’ storied NBA championship history. He expressed gratitude that Scott approached him in a friendly manner as soon as he joined the team. Black laughed about Young’s playful demeanor. Black joked that Lakers spokesman John Black is his “big cousin” and will soon provide him with a name plate on his locker.
Moments later, Black’s interview then ended. He then stood up and said to reporters something that has become customary ever since he joined the Lakers.
Said Black: “Thank you for the opportunity.”
By how he played on Sunday, it appears Black will receive plenty more of them.
“I’m just happy for him about the way he plays,” Scott said. “He came in with a ton of energy. That’s how he plays and it elevated everybody else.”
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