His role is all-encompassing for the Lakers, and if being an enforcer is part of that, Markieff Morris is all for it.
So when Hall of Famer Charles Barkley asked Morris on NBA TV after the Lakers’ Game 4 victory over the Miami Heat on Tuesday night if the forward was being physical or purposefully intimidating on the court, Morris didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“Both,” Morris said. “It’s basketball. Not too many people know me off the court. But on the court, we intimidate. That’s just the way we are, you know what I mean? So, I just use it to my advantage. So I’m coming to be physical. I’m coming to foul the hell out of you and I’m coming to change the game with energy. I’m old-school. I’m just playing in this new basketball era. I’m old-school.”
All that Morris did served the Lakers well in Game 4 at the AdventHealth Arena on the Disney World sports complex.
He started the second half in place of center Dwight Howard, giving the Lakers another defender to throw at Heat star Jimmy Butler and another player to create space because of his three-point shooting.
Morris played 30 minutes and 2 seconds in the game, 18:02 in the second half, when he had six of his nine points.
Morris has continued to give the Lakers a lift off the bench during the NBA Finals, which resume with Game 5 on Friday night while holding a 3-1 series lead.
He's tied for fourth in scoring (10.5) and rebounding (4.3) and is second in three-point accuracy (42.3%).
Morris and the Lakers are one win from claiming the franchise's 17th NBA title, which would tie them with the Boston Celtics for the most.
“We still can be better and we know that,” Morris said. “And we know we still got another step to get there. We know it’s going to be tough to win a championship, but we’re all for it.”
Lakers lock in on Butler
Miami has to make the next adjustment in Game 5. The Heat need to find ways to free up Butler from the clutches of the Lakers defense.
The Lakers had no answer for Butler in Game 3, his triple-double of 40 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists a playoff masterpiece.
But the Lakers made an adjustment that worked, throwing the long-armed 6-foot-10 Anthony Davis at Butler. LeBron James (6-9) and Morris (6-8), also bigger defenders, took turns on Butler in Game 5 as well.
Butler made his first five shots in the first quarter, but he went three for 12 the rest of the way, finishing with 22 points.
Davis’ defense was key to that happening.
“He's a great player. So is Jimmy,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said on a videoconference late Tuesday night. “So we have a great team and great players in our way of what we're trying to do. I'm sure on Friday night it will be James and Davis on him quite a bit and Jimmy's not running from that. We have to try to help him a little bit more, create a little bit more space for him.
“But again, these games may just end up being in the mud. You have two competitive groups and you just have to figure out how to make some plays at the end, and that's usually where we figure it out and usually where our group thrives. So I already know the heartbeat of what's going on in our locker room. Our guys are just looking forward to Friday.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.