When Lakers’ Markieff Morris got his turn to step up, he came through
Markieff Morris’ conversations with Lakers coach Frank Vogel about a shortened rotation that was not going to include him did not sit well with the veteran forward.
Morris played a pivotal role last season in helping the Lakers win their first NBA championship in 10 years. He had averaged 5.9 points and three rebounds in 18.3 minutes during 21 playoff games. He made 42% of his three-pointers and was a key player when the Lakers played a small-ball lineup against the Houston Rockets in the second round.
All of that apparently was a moot point after the Lakers lost two consecutive games for the first time this season, at Philadelphia and Detroit on Jan. 27-28, and Vogel decided to go to a nine-man rotation.
And like veteran guard Wesley Matthews, Morris was an odd man out.
After not playing in four consecutive games, Morris has played in the last two because forward Anthony Davis is injured (right Achilles tendinosis). But not playing was a blow to the prideful Morris.
“Me and coach went back and forth about a couple of different things,” Morris said during a videoconference after playing 24 minutes 41 seconds and coming up with two big-time plays in a 114-113 overtime victory against the Thunder at Staples Center. “For me, the whole thing was, you know, I was just in the rotation in the [NBA] Finals. So, it’s hard to take that. …
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“I had to take that step back and just be ready when my time is called. But you know, everything happens for a reason, man. I have fresh legs. I’ll be ready when it’s time. I play a lot of pickup with Jared Dudley and the rest of those guys just trying to stay ready. But the conversation was tough. Like I said, I’m a competitor and I’ve been in the rotation since I’ve been here, so it was real tough.”
When asked if it helped to have Matthews going through the same experience as him and not playing in four consecutive games, Morris was succinct.
“Hell, no, it don’t make it easy. ... I was here before Wes. Wes my dawg, but damn,” Morris said. “Me and Wes kind of had a connection to compete on the court. We bonded regardless who was sitting out. If I was sitting out with my brother [twin Marcus with the Clippers], it wouldn’t make it easy because I’m a competitor. I’ve played at the highest level, we’ve all played at the highest level, so it’s not easy.
“But like I said, me and Wes just got to continue to stay ready when our numbers are called like they were the last two games. It’s a long season. The goal is to win a championship and that’s what all of us are focused on. Regardless of when coach needs us to play, we’re going to have to do it. That’s just how it goes on a team that’s 10 deep and that’s a championship team.”
Morris started against the Thunder in place of Davis on Monday night but came off the bench Wednesday night when Kyle Kuzma got the start.
Morris scored nine points and grabbed two rebounds.
His three-pointer in the fourth quarter pulled the Lakers to within one point. On the next possession for the Thunder, Morris forced a turnover by taking a charge.
“Yeah, he was huge tonight during that stretch,” Vogel said. “It’s been tough for Kieff. Kieff is a really good player. He helped us win a championship last year. His opportunities have been not as often as last year, and he’s making the best of it with the minutes that he’s getting. And being a true pro and a team-first guy when we decided to shrink the rotation a little bit. Worked to stay ready. Stayed bought into what we’re doing and supporting his teammates. And when you stay ready and you get the next opportunity, you come in and you hit it out of the park. When he had that stretch in the fourth quarter, that big three, the charge that he took, very, very key to our fourth-quarter run, and key to this victory.”
Morris is in this for the long haul, admitting that his handling of his situation can only be for the betterment of the team. His teammates point out how professional he and Matthews have been throughout it all and how hard he has worked to stay ready for when his moment has arrived.
“It has to be, man. Guys that are the caliber of players that me and Wes are, I think you can put us on any other team in the NBA and we’d both be getting quality minutes,” Morris said. “But like I said before, the sacrifices that we’ve made being on this team. … Me coming back knowing that we have a deep team. Wes coming here knowing that we have a deep team. It’s just the time being, man. Anything can happen during the season. You just got to stay ready.”
His interview over, Morris stood up and let out a yell.
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