The Los Angeles Lakers are at the .500 mark for the first time since Jan. 1, and much of their recent success is due to the return to form of an unlikely hero in the form of Steve Blake.
The backup point guard has been an anchor for the bench of late, and with his latest performance on Kobe Bryant turns back the clock in 99-98 win Sunday night in a key win against the Atlanta Hawks that included eight points, five assists and one steal in 23 minutes of play, including 2-of-3 from beyond the arc. The implications of not only the game, but what it meant from a standpoint of reclaiming their season were easy to see.
“Every win we get to get closer to where we want to be is a big deal,” Blake said to reporters following the game against the Hawks. “We’re continuing to improve and we’ll have a big test this next game (at Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday). Earlier on this season, we would’ve lost this game probably.”
Blake has averaged 5.3 points, and 3.4 assists this season in 22 games, but he’s emerged as a leader of late, and with good health has bolstered his scoring to a mark of 6.2 points per game after the All-Star break.
Beyond the individual improvement, though, the entire bench is playing inspired ball. In 2012-13, the Lakers’ reserves are scoring 27.4 points per game and are 26th. In their last ten, they’ve averaged 31.1 per contest and are 18th in the league over that stretch (data via HoopsStats.com).
General manager Mitch Kupchak has said in the past that the Lakers have been scouting Blake since the 2003 pre-draft camps when he was coming out of the University of Maryland. Now that he’s finally found a niche role with the team, he’s made the best of it and is giving them exactly what they need at this point — consistency in the second unit.
The Lakers will need every last bit of production from their entire rotation if they’re going to have any chance to win in the postseason, and if Blake continues doing what he’s doing, the Lakers will have a better chance of doing so.