'Renegades' reason for Lakers' success
With the first unit off the court, reporters walked in on a spirited 3-on-3 game comprised completely of bench players as Steve Blake, Shannon Brown and Matt Barnes jostled with Luke Walton, Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter.
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It was appropriate that all eyes were on the bench players because they are the Lakers' breakout stars in this infant season.
The Lakers' bench has averaged 27.5 points per game through the Lakers' 2-0 start. It hasn't just been the net points that have made an impact, but rather the timeliness of the plays made by L.A.'s substitutes. Brown and Blake both drained crucial shots down the stretch against Houston, and Barnes showed off his prowess on both ends of the floor against Phoenix.
"We can change the speed a little bit with our bench out there," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "They're getting a sense about how to play together. It's important now if we get Ebanks a little bit of time and Sasha [Vujacic] back in the mix and get him going again, I think we'll have a full fledge of activity from them."
In years past the Lakers' second unit was nicknamed the "Bench Mob" because of the subs' abilities to influence the game as a group. Later, Jackson referred to his reserves as the "Minute Men" because of the impact they could have in a short amount of time on the court.
Jackson dubbed this season's group the "Renegades." Lakers color analyst Stu Lantz coined the group of Brown, Blake and Barnes the "Killer Bs" during Friday's telecast.
"We're not going to worry too much about nicknames, we're just going to go out there and keep doing what we're doing," Blake said. "We're sitting there amped, ready to get in the game and start playing. ... In the experiences I've had coming off the bench as a bench player, you want to come in with some hunger and some energy. I think that's important for us."
Added Barnes: "When you go to the bench, you don't want to have any drop off. That's something we're really trying to work hard on and I think we're slowly but surely headed in the right direction."
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The Lakers' bench faltered last season in part because of too many individual agendas and in part because of injuries to players like Walton, who missed 53 games because of a pinched nerve in his lower back. Walton, who stayed in L.A. to rehabilitate his strained right hamstring instead of traveling with the team to Phoenix, said he would not play against the Warriors on Sunday. He is focused on returning to the lineup early next week, perhaps as soon as Tuesday against the Memphis Grizzlies.
"I didn't feel anything today," Walton said. "As long as I don't feel anything, we're making progress."
Walton is just as optimistic about the team's bench as he is about his health.
"There's a lot of potential for this bench to be very good," Walton said. "Obviously it's very tough when you have five starters as good as we do. They play 30-something minutes a game, but there's a lot of potential for this bench to be very successful. We have a lot of energy, a lot of talent, a lot of playmakers, so if it all works out it will be a very good second unit."
Thirty-six of the 57 points the Lakers' bench has scored through the first two games have come on 3-pointers. While the reserves have shot an excellent 12-for-21 (57.1 percent) from the outside, Jackson doesn't want to confuse what the team's true strength is.
"We're more of an inside team," Jackson said. "Kobe [Bryant is] going to post people up, Lamar [Odom is] going to post people up and so is Pau [Gasol] and Andrew [Bynum] when he gets back."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.