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Friday, April 18
 
L.A.'s extras answer casting call just in time

By Marc J. Spears
Special to ESPN.com

Much ado is made about Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, and, as possibly the NBA's most dominating duo ever, no one can question that talk.

But now more than in their previous three straight NBA championship seasons, the Lakers will need more than Shaq and Kobe to remain kings. The Timberwolves are quite hungry, and the Kings, Spurs and Mavericks are ready for a changing of the guard and are all legitimate title contenders, too. So while O'Neal and Bryant will definitely lead the way, the targeted Lakers will also need Derek Fisher, Rick Fox, Robert Horry, Devean George and the rest of the supporting cast to pick up their games offensively if they want to be sized for a fourth NBA championship ring.

"We have to limit their role players," Kings guard Bobby Jackson said.

Jannero Pargo
Jannero Pargo scored a career-high 18 points on Tuesday.
When the Lakers stumbled to an 11-19 start, a big finger was pointed at the role players.

Bryant took some shots literally and figuratively at forward-center Samaki Walker, who still hasn't turned it around. Power forward Stanislav Medevenko hasn't been much better. Fox, Fisher and Brian Shaw were looked at as aging role players who could be weary from all the playoff games in recent years. And while there were flashes, George didn't become the budding star at small forward like the Lakers hoped and paid for last offseason.

But as the Lakers regrouped to finish with a 50-32 record, Fox, Fisher, Horry, George and surprisingly forward Mark Madsen played big roles in aiding Shaq and Kobe. Rookie guards Kareem Rush and Jannero Pargo have also given some solid spot minutes while calmly knocking down jumpers.

"That has been the key to our success this entire run," said Fisher, who is averaging 10.5 points per game. "Obviously, Kobe and Shaq lead us in about every category there is. But it's unfair to expect them to continue to carry the load themselves at all times. Myself, Rick, Devean George, Robert, the rookies, everybody has to step up and give us some quality play.

"That's what we are going to need, particularly this year. The teams we are facing have more than one or two guys that can give production. So we are going to need the same."

To get a real look at how valuable the Lakers' role players could fare against Minnesota in the first round of the playoffs and beyond, take a look at their numbers in key games against playoff teams in April.

L.A.'s spring arrival
Date Result Shaq/Kobe Reserves
April 3 100-89 win at Dallas 50 points Fisher 18, Horry 13, Fox 8, George 3
April 6 115-113 OT win vs. Phoenix 48 points Fisher 20, George 15, Horry 8, Fox 3
April 8 108-99 win vs. Dallas 28 points George 21, Horry 17, Fisher 16, Fox 16
April 10 117-104 win at Sacramento 66 points Fisher 17, Horry 11, George 9, Fox 6
April 13 101-99 loss at Portland 72 points George 9, Fisher 5, Fox 5, Horry 0

"All of them miscellaneous players played well," said Kings guard Doug Christie after the Lakers' April 10 win over the Kings. "They played, minus the guards, probably as well as they can possibly play."

Those aforementioned April games strongly show how the role players serve a strong role in the Lakers' success. Such was also the case in Los Angeles' two wins against Minnesota this season. During a 106-96 win at the Staples Center on March 7, Fox had 13 points, Madsen 10 and Fisher 9. During a 106-99 win in Minnesota on March 16, Fisher had 21 points, while Horry added 11.

If the Lakers can get two or more of "them miscellaneous players" to score in double figures, Shaq and Kobe should be able to do the rest to get the win. Strong reserve play would also help the stars play less minutes, which would be key with four possible seven-game series ahead. If that role play doesn't happen, getting the dynamic duo to pull that excess weight might be too heavy.

"For the most part, we're playing pretty decent," Horry said. "The fact the playoffs are starting, guys can see the light and it is giving us a little energy boost. It's one of the reasons we are playing a lot better."

Marc J. Spears, who covers the NBA and Denver Nuggets for the Denver Post, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.

 



 

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