It’s time for the annual Robert Horry column, only this time it’s way ahead of schedule.
Usually he’s like the Wolf in “Pulp Fiction”: He comes out of nowhere, takes care of business and then busts out. That’s the way Horry operates in the playoffs. You sleep on him all season, and he steps in at the biggest moments of the year.
Laker Coach Phil Jackson called in the Wolf a little early this year. Samaki Walker went to the sideline with an elbow injury on Feb. 19, Horry stepped into the starting lineup and proceeded to boost his averages in all the major stats and help the Lakers to a run that has now reached 12 victories in 14 games.
He’s had a little to do with most of them and had a lot to do with the latest, an entertaining 105-103 “W” over the Dallas Mavericks Sunday night.
Have some of this stat line: 19 points, eight rebounds, three assists two steals and four blocked shots. Oh, and the game-winning three-pointer.
“Robert Horry stands in my mind as the guy that hurt us,” Maverick center Raef LaFrentz said.
“Playoff time, usually, you get excited to see Rob on the court,” said Laker forward Rick Fox, who’s been enjoying a resurgence himself since he shaved his head last week. “Because his focus is one of experience. He’s been at a championship level four times [twice with the Houston Rockets, twice in L.A.]. He’s as good as an All-Star when he’s on the floor [that] time of year.
“Rob prepared himself a little differently this year. He’s played huge on both ends of the floor. More importantly, he’s maintained his health. I’m excited to know he’s playing that way already in March. I was waiting for April.”
The only problem is Horry might have to relinquish his title as the Lord of Leisure. He’s been my hero because he has accomplished so much in his career with such little apparent effort.
Watch him. He won’t even waste trips past the halfcourt line if he has the feeling it wouldn’t be worth his while.
But when it matters most he always comes through. Like his three-pointer that sealed Game 3 of the NBA Finals and all but finished the Philadelphia 76ers for the series last year.
Some people see his wait-till-June label as a knock on Horry. What’s wrong with it?
Karl Malone has been called the greatest power forward in history, but you could spend the rest of your life looking through the video library at NBA Entertainment without finding as many clutch postseason plays by the Mailman as Horry has produced for the Lakers and Rockets.
Horry’s rep doesn’t bother him too much.
“It does a little bit and it doesn’t. I could have the reputation of fading, like some other players,” Horry said. “Sometimes it makes me upset, because it makes me look like I don’t do [anything] the whole season. But I’d rather have that kind of reputation than not being able to show up.”
No one can say he didn’t show up this season. What he did was show up in better shape. He changed his summer conditioning program. He did more cross-training. He did boxing workouts. He even tried wrestling with his trainer, but found that was too painful.
He hasn’t been slowed by the nagging injuries that usually afflict him. And he’s been able to respond when the Lakers need him.
“I’m in great shape,” Horry said. “I’m working hard on the weights in the off days, just trying to keep my body healthy and keep everything running smoothly.”
As a starter he averaged 10.6 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.7 assists in 36 minutes coming into Sunday (compared to his overall numbers of 6.6 points, six rebounds and 2.7 assists).
He played 41 minutes Sunday night.
Like a hockey coach sending his checking line out against the opposition’s top scorer, Jackson wanted Horry to be on the court to guard Dallas’ Dirk Nowitzki. Nowtizki played 44 minutes, which meant Horry wound up with 41 minutes of time.
“I’m fine,” Horry said. “At one point, he tried to take me out, I told him not to take me out.”
Horry was the only Laker who defended the pick-and-roll well, and the Mavericks went hard with that play. And with Dallas using LaFrentz and Wang Zhi Zhi to pull Shaquille O’Neal away from the basket, Horry became their defensive presence in the middle.
“Robert Horry is one of the best defensive basketball players in the game,” Jackson said.
He swatted a Steve Nash layup after Nash dribbled the length of the court in the final seconds of the third quarter. That preserved a four-point Laker lead.
And Horry got the last word in a great finishing exchange of three-pointers at the end of the fourth quarter.
With the Lakers down by one, the ball went inside to O’Neal, who passed out to an open Horry. In typical fashion, he calmly knocked down the shot.
“I’m the type of person. I just sit back and let it come to me,” Horry said.
To finish his night, he even knocked away the rebound toward the other end of the court after Michael Finley missed what could have been the game-winning three-point shot.
The fans at Staples Center erupted. Earlier, those fans chanted his name as he shot free throws.
“That probably won’t happen again,” Horry said.
At least, not until the playoffs.
J.A. Adande can be reached at email@example.com.