Bench gets chance to rise again
Lakers reserves are trying to regain confidence heading into the playoffs
LOS ANGELES -- With their playoff matchup already set and two of their starters out because of injury, Tuesday's game against the Sacramento Kings was dedicated to the Lakers' bench.
"You want to see some of the bench come to life," coach Phil Jackson stated as the goal for the game before tipoff. "Have a game where they play well, they shoot well and have confidence. We have some wrinkles we want to use to get them playing the basketball we think they're capable of."
It wasn't all good. It wasn't all bad. And it was nearly disastrous.
Sasha Vujacic scored a season-high 13 points, including buzzer-beating shots to end the first and third quarters, and even had a couple of impressive tip-ins in the second half. ("An offensive rebounding machine," Jackson said about Vujacic's four rebounds on that end. "That's what he is now.")
Luke Walton played a season-high 24 minutes and finished with nine points and three assists. ("I felt really good today," Walton said. "It was a lot of fun out there playing again and being out there and not having pain.")
Shannon Brown, starting in place of Kobe Bryant, had 24 points on 10-for-19 shooting, not to mention a steal and highlight-reel dunk that may have been one-upped by a swooping left-handed rejection that was equally highlight-reel worthy. This after averaging only 5.5 points in the Lakers' most recent six losses, largely because of an aggravated right thumb. ("Starting I kind of get the chance to set the tone for the game, but coming off the bench I got to kind of try to grab that rhythm that's already going," Brown said about his return to a reserve role when Bryant comes back.)
DJ Mbenga had seven points and five rebounds in 16 minutes, showing that he'll be ready to chip in if Andrew Bynum isn't in full swing by Sunday, even if his new hairdo is worse than Wesley Snipe's monstrosity in "Demolition Man."
As a unit, they outscored Sacramento 41-32, after Portland's second team outscored them 35-8 on Sunday.
Odom, who is a temporary starter in Bynum's place but will be called upon to reprise his sixth man role in the playoffs, made only one of four shots from the field, finishing with as many turnovers as points (five).
Jordan Farmar tweaked his left hamstring early in the second quarter and sat out the rest of the game. His initial diagnosis was day-to-day, but Jackson said after the game Farmar will dress Wednesday against the Clippers. If Farmar went out for an extended period because of meaningless minutes in game No. 81 of the season with the playoffs -- and a pair of ultra-quick guards in Russell Westbrook and Eric Maynor of Oklahoma City -- waiting just five days away, it would be a major blow to the team.
The reserves, which once had nifty nicknames as a collective like the "Bench Mob" and "Minute Men," will get a chance to do it again against the Clippers.
One more chance to make a name for themselves as individuals that Jackson can trust in the rotation. One more chance to make a name for themselves as a group that the starters can rely on.
"Guys on the bench are hungry to play," Walton said. "I don't think this one game did anything, but I think we know as a bench what we need to do. I think there have been times this year when we haven't done it, but we also know that we're capable of doing it. I think we'll be ready come playoffs."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.