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Lakers have trusted Steve Blake despite shooting struggles

May 07, 2012|By Mark Medina

The moment Kobe Bryant began a drive on the perimeter, the defenders reacted as they usually do. They double teamed him. Instead of forcing a contested shot, however, Bryant found Steve Blake for an open jumper.

With ease, Blake knocked down the shot, capping off a prolific fourth quarter that led to the Lakers' victory. At first glance, this might read like a description of Blake's corner three-pointer that iced the Lakers' 92-88 Game 4 victory Sunday over the Denver Nuggets. But it isn't.

Blake also provided these heroics in the Lakers' season opener in the 2010-11 season against the Houston Rockets. Because this marked his Lakers' debut, it left fans instantly salivating over the Lakers' appearing to have a legitimate three-point shooter and a dependable point guard who could help reduce Derek Fisher's minutes.

That expectation vanished. Blake shot 35.9% from three-point range last season, the lowest shooting percentage for the eight-year veteran since the 2006-07 season. Despite a modest uptick in shooting in the first seven games through January (44.7%), a sternum/rib injury left Blake sidelined for 13 consecutive games. Since his return, he finished with a season average of 37.7% from downtown and remained inconsistent in making shots while often times passing instead of shooting.

Yet between his Lakers debut and the team's Game 4 win Sunday over the Nuggets, the team's coaching staff and teammates publicly advocated for him to shoot. That encouragement eventually set up Blake firing a corner three-pointer that gave the Lakers a 92-86 lead against Denver with 18 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

"I've been playing a long time and you have to take the shots when you're open," Blake said after Monday's practice at the Lakers' facility in El Segundo. "Whether it's the first minute or the last minute. I enjoy taking those shots. I'm not always in the end to take them. But if I am at the end, I love to take those shots."

The Lakers weren't always so sure.

Coach Mike Brown and Lakers players often sensed Blake showing reluctance in finding his shot. That was partly out of deferring to the Lakers' Big Three in Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, partly out of appearing uncomfortable with his shooting, and partly out of wanting to remain patient with running the offense. Eventually, that mind-set both exacerbated his shooting struggles and tempered his play-making abilities.

Yet, there remained stretches that kept the Lakers confident about Blake. He scored three consecutive three-pointers in Game 1. Lakers assistant development coach Phil Handy has touted Blake as the team's most diligent worker during his shooting workouts. Brown preferred Blake's veteran experience over rookies Andrew Goudelock and Darius Morris.

"Sometimes you make it. Sometimes you don't. We continue to pass it to him," Bryant said of Blake. "That's how confidence is built and that's how it keeps defenses off balance. When you're relying on me, Pau and Andrew, we trust our guys and we continue to hit them. It puts them in a tough predicament."


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Lakers have trusted Steve Blake despite shooting struggles

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