Lakers bench busts out in rout
Before the Lakers' 131-96 blowout win over the Mavericks on Sunday, Phil Jackson complimented Dallas' depth on offense, saying that he warned his team at shootaround that the Mavs have as many as eight players in the rotation capable of putting up double digits on any given night.
The message sunk in so much so that instead of trying to eliminate Dallas' prodigious bench production, the Lakers just decided to duplicate it instead.
L.A. dismantled its closest competition in the Western Conference standings by doing its best Dallas impression. Every Los Angeles player who played scored at least six points and seven Lakers topped the 10-point plateau.
With Ron Artest missing his fifth straight game dealing with the aftereffects of a concussion and Pau Gasol limited to just seven minutes of playing time after checking out with a strained left hamstring in the first quarter, the bench burst couldn't have come at a better time.
The Lakers second unit, once dubbed "The Bench Mob" for the energy it brought and the cohesion it played with, was now being referred to as the far less superhero-sounding moniker of "the manufactured lineup" by Jackson.
What was once a strength had become a severe deficiency.
Coming into Sunday, L.A.'s bench ranked 27th in points per game (24.8) and the Lakers also ranked 29th in opposing bench points allowed per game (34.8).
Their struggles had only compounded since Artest went out. The Lakers' strongest substitute, Lamar Odom, joined the starters and the rest of the rotation was tweaked in patchwork fashion.
But the bench had a breakthrough on Sunday.
"We came out and we needed to play together because we have so many injuries," D.J. Mbenga said after racking up six points, three rebounds and three blocks in only 15 minutes. "We just felt like now's the time when we need to get our [expletive] together."
It was a banner day as the bench scored 66 points, obliterating its previous season high of 46, and several players had their best games of the year with Jordan Farmar scoring a career-high 24 points (including a 6-for-8 mark on 3-pointers) and Sasha Vujacic adding five rebounds, two assists and two steals to his season-high 11 points.
The bench boost helped L.A. to season highs in points (131), margin of victory (35), field goal percentage (63.4) and 3-point percentage (58.3).
"I thought just about everybody responded well tonight to the game," Jackson said.
Farmar had the hot hand on Sunday, but admitted, "There's times when we go through lapses."
"There's really no one go-to guy that we run plays for," Farmar said. "We don't really run any plays, we just read [the defense] so at times you go two or three possessions without scoring and they get two or three buckets and then the momentum has completely shifted."
"We just have to figure it out. We have to get good shots [and] rebound. But, it really comes down to us defending. If we can get stops, then it's really not that big of a deal."
Kobe Bryant, whose 15 points on Sunday placed him in a tie with Patrick Ewing for 15th place on the NBA's all-time scoring list (24,815 points), echoed the same sentiment. He believes that the depth of their defense is what will lift the Lakers in the long run.
"I know that they can score, that's never been a problem for them so I can't say that I was impressed by it," Bryant said. "Guys were there on [defensive] rotations, I think that was the big difference."
It's hard to believe that the Lakers are 35 points better than the next-best team in the West.
Keep in mind that Dallas was playing on the road on the second night of a back-to-back with its starting center, Erick Dampier, out which allowed Andrew Bynum to feast in the paint to the tune of 19 points on 8-for-8 shooting.
Plus it was a bit of payback, as the Mavs gave the Lakers their first loss of the season back on Oct. 30 when Dallas drubbed them by 14.
But don't discredit the win, either. A win like this one, a true team win from top to bottom, is just the type of game that can jar the Lakers out of the mini holiday-season slump they had dropped into.
"I think it says a lot about our character," Bryant said.
The Lakers will need the bench to keep it up.
Artest said he didn't think he would be back for Tuesday's game against the Houston Rockets, saying the date is an unrealistic expectation.
Gasol's status is uncertain. He could have been kept out of the lineup because L.A. had such a big lead on Sunday and didn't need to risk pushing him to return. A strained right hamstring caused him to miss the first 11 games of the season, however.
"We just wish we could bottle it and use it for another time," Jackson said about the bench's performance.
Time for the manufactured lineup to manufacture some consistency.
Dave McMenamin is a writer and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.