LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — His teammates call him “Smooth.”
Markieff Morris is “Smooth” because of his low-pitched baritone that soft until the moment he needs to start talking tough on the court. “Smooth” wears blue Crocs after games — prioritizing comfort over fashion — and when he walks he takes slow, gliding strides. Most importantly, “Smooth” can shoot, and when he knocks down threes, that’s when he seems to be playing at his most effortless of all.
His Lakers teammates have seen that side of Markieff Morris. Lakers fans rarely have.
So it felt like getting a monkey off of his back for the 31-year-old when he broke out for 16 points, his highest output since joining the team, Sunday night in the Lakers’ 117-109 win over the Rockets in Game 2 — a victory kick-started by Morris when he drained all four of his 3-point attempts in the first quarter.
It’s what Lakers fans have been waiting on since the team signed him back in February. It’s what Morris has been waiting on himself, too.
“It was about time I start making some shots,” he said. “I haven’t made any shots since I’ve been here really, if you know what I mean. I’m playoff ready, man.”
Ever since the Lakers signed Morris as a free agent in February, he’s struggled to find ways to make a consistent impact. Like his brother Marcus on the Clippers, Markieff has a reputation for playing physical and not backing down from confrontation — and the Lakers felt they needed that on the roster.
But they also needed a small-ball piece who could help add versatility, someone who could stretch the floor and play serviceable defense as a four or five, depending on the lineup look the team wants to play. It’s here where Morris has struggled to make an impact: Morris shot just 33.3 percent from deep in the regular season, and his lineups were consistently outscored.
Averaging about 16 minutes per game in his first six playoff appearances, Morris had only scored 19 points on 3 for 13 shooting from deep. After Game 1 against the Rockets, he looked at the stat sheet and was dismayed to see a row of goose eggs staring back.
“I felt like I didn’t affect the game at all,” he said. “It’s not even just making shots, I just felt like I didn’t do anything. I felt like I didn’t bring no energy, I didn’t bring no toughness, I didn’t rebound the ball. I had zero stats across the board. I felt like I gotta be a little more aggressive.”
Morris said on Saturday that it was tough to play in new lineups, but perhaps there was something to getting his hair freshly braided between Saturday’s practice and Sunday’s game. He seemed to have plenty of chemistry with Rajon Rondo, who sat nearby at the salon getting his braids done, too: The point guard fed him assists on five of his six baskets.
Said Morris: “He’s not hard to hoop with at all.”
Neither is Morris when he’s at his best. The Rockets eventually recovered and adapted, eating up the Lakers’ 21-point lead. But Morris also played a key role late, securing three rebounds in the last six minutes of the fourth quarter.
“Smooth — Markieff, sorry, you may not know his nickname — ‘Kieff was spectacular off the bench giving us that instant offense, but just his grit,” LeBron James said. “We love having him on the floor.”