Lakers reserve point guard Steve Blake is averaging 6.1 points and 3.8 assists… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)
Lakers fans were well aware that Steve Nash missed a ton of time when the season began. And Pau Gasol was sidelined by a variety of injuries.
And more recently, Metta World Peace wouldn't be back until the Western Conference semifinals, as if the Lakers — or their followers — were thinking that far ahead.
But Coach Mike D'Antoni often points out the least-analyzed injury of the Lakers' season — Steve Blake missing 37 games because of abdominal surgery and subsequent groin soreness.
Blake just completed his best month in three seasons with the Lakers, and he'll be counted on for more production as Nash struggles with hamstring and hip soreness.
Nash didn't even make it through the first two minutes of Saturday's game against Sacramento before heading to the sideline. Blake jumped off the bench, made five three-pointers, and the Lakers won, 103-98.
Nash wasn't able to finish the Lakers' last two games and could be affected for the foreseeable future. He went to the sidelines after a jump pass to Gasol because of a strained right hamstring, the Lakers said. Nash did not talk to reporters after Saturday's game. The team continues to call him day to day.
Could Blake's importance ever be larger than now, with the Lakers trying desperately to make the playoffs?
The mellow Blake doesn't seem affected by the extra pressure. Or, really, anything.
"I'm making shots, going out there and having fun, trying to do the best I can on defense," he said. "I'm just enjoying being out there right now, playing free."
Blake averaged 7.3 points and 4.3 assists in March, his best month statistically since signing a four-year, $16-million contract with the Lakers in July 2010.
His stats won't turn any heads. He's not the next coming of Chris Paul.
Blake, though, had 18 points against Indiana, the Lakers' other important road victory in March. He also had 16 against Sacramento a couple of days later.
"Steve's going to be ready," Kobe Bryant said. "I'm not concerned about that … with his intelligence and his ability to set us up."
Seven of the Lakers' last eight games are at Staples Center, potentially setting them up for a late-season run, heavy emphasis on the word "potentially" with this underachieving group.
One of those games includes a designated road contest against the Clippers, but the Lakers leave Los Angeles only once between now and their regular-season finale April 17 against Houston.
"We do feel that it's still in our hands," D'Antoni said. "Whether that's a good thing or not, that could be debated, but it is in our hands."
Bryant and Chamberlain
Bryant shared a light anecdote after passing Wilt Chamberlain for fourth place on the NBA's all-time scoring list.
"I remember the first time I met him, I was about 8 years old, the first thing that struck me was … he was Bombaata from 'Conan the Barbarian,'" Bryant said, smiling. "That was the most impressive thing to me.
"He was just such a warmhearted gentleman. I have nothing but praise for him, obviously. To pass him up is a huge honor, to say the least."
Bryant moved past Chamberlain after hitting a 19-footer in the second quarter against Sacramento. He now has 31,434 points, 858 behind Michael Jordan. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored 38,387 points and Karl Malone had 36,928.