Lakers' poor bench play in second quarter against Sacramento illustrates season-long inconsistency
Lakers forward Lamar Odom had always taken it personally whenever the team's reserve unit didn't do well enough to hold a lead. That meant Kobe Bryant and the rest of the starters couldn't get some well-needed rest. That meant Odom had to lead an inconsistent group, a role he's capable of fulfilling but maybe not so much as his unassuming secondary role. That also meant Odom trying to temper his own frustrations.
That tipping point actually happened in late December when the Lakers' bench allowed a 21-point lead against the Detroit Pistons to evaporate to within eight points in the fourth quarter. That meant the starters would have to come in and save the day. So one could only imagine how Odom felt when the Lakers' reserve unit combined for only one point in the first half Tuesday against Sacramento. The Lakers managed to recover in the second half, however, and finish with a 106-99 victory over the Kings.
But the incident provided the latest and most vivid case study of a unit that has gone through too many ups and downs, making it hard to accurately track the reserves' development process and what contributions the Lakers can consistently expect from them.
In the end, the bench didn't necessarily decide the outcome. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, forward Pau Gasol and center Andrew Bynum handled that, combining for 79 points. But the bench certainly played a significant role. After the Lakers held a 28-17 first-quarter lead, Coach Phil Jackson had a good reason to rest most of his starters in the second quarter, especially given the game was on the second night of a back-to-back. But a zero-for-eight clip among the reserves in the first half resulted in the Lakers holding only a 49-48 halftime lead. The bench then improved in the second half, finishing with 20 total points, including Odom's 10 points and seven rebounds. After the jump is a breakdown on the bench's poor start and how it managed to bounce back.
2nd quarter, 11:19 - 11:09
After receiving a pass from Lakers backup guard Shannon Brown, reserve guard Jordan Farmar immediately launched a contested 26-foot three-pointer over Kings guard Tyreke Evans. After Sacramento forward Jason Thompson grabbed the rebound, Evans ran the break and drove to the rack. He missed the left-handed layup, but Thompson tipped the ball in, reducing the Lakers' lead to 30-19.
2nd quarter, 10:44 - 10:30
Odom grabbed the rebound off Thompson's missed 17-footer and pushed the ball up the floor to Brown. On the far end behind the perimeter, Brown dribbled between his legs and then drove left past Kings guard Francisco Garcia. Though Sacramento forward Andres Nocioni and Thompson moved from the weak side to help, Brown went through traffic for an over-the-shoulder layup. The shot hit off the backboard, Nocioni grabbed the board and pushed the ball to Evans. He drove to the rack and drew a foul on Odom, who also was given a technical for arguing the call. Evans converted on all three free throws, reducing the Lakers' lead to 30-22.
2nd quarter, 10:30 - 10:10
After Evans made the foul shots, Brown manned the point. Drawing pressure from both Garcia and Evans, Brown dribbled behind his back near the timeline before Evans swiped the ball. Brown grabbed the loose ball on the far end of the court after Odom batted it away from Garcia. He then drove to the basket and forced a left-handed layup, despite there being three Kings players in the paint. After Thompson blocked the shot, Evans grabbed the ball and passed to Kings forward Omri Caspi on the other end. He finished the play with a one-handed slam, cutting the Lakers' lead to 30-24 and capping off Sacramento's 7-0 run.
2nd quarter, 10:10 - 9:45
Farmar brought the ball past the timeline, drove into the lane and passed to Adam Morrison on the far wing. He took one dribble, squared up outside the paint and attempted a shot over Thompson, but he easily swatted the ball. Evans led the break, drove into the lane and then kicked out to Nocioni in the near corner. Instead of marking Nocioni, Brown guarded the paint. As soon as Nocioni released the ball, Brown kicked out but it was too late. Nocioni's three-pointer slashed the Lakers' cushion to 30-27 and continued the Kings' 10-0 run.
2nd quarter, 9:04 - 8:45
With Farmar on the near corner, Morrison cut to the lane, penetrated the wing and then cut up top on the far side. By then, Odom manned the point up top and soon passed to Morrison. He drove right past Casspi, pulled up for a jumper just outside the paint and the shot rimmed out. Though the shot proved to be a good look, Morrison didn't take advantage of the angle he had for a bank shot, which would've improved his chances. After Evans cleaned the glass, he ran the break and found Nocioni open on the far corner. He faked left, then drove to his right past Odom and curled into the paint off Thompson's screen on Odom. Gasol tried stepping up, but Nocioni angled over him for the right-handed layup. The score cut the Lakers' lead to 31-30.
2nd quarter, 7:48 - 7:18
After swiping the ball from behind Garcia, Brown manned the break and found Farmar open for a near-corner 21-foot jumper. Though he had all the time in the world, Farmar's shot nipped off the front rim. On the other end, Gasol blocked Nocioni's three-pointer on the corner and Odom grabbed the rebound. He passed to Farmar, who spun left around Nocioni before bringing the ball up the court. Though his recognition proved valuable on that play, he traveled moments later as he drove into the lane.
2nd quarter, 6:32 - 6:22
Brown fed an entry pass inside to Odom, who posted up on Nocioni. Odom dribbled once, spun toward his right and went in for the layup. But the shot rimmed out. It was a very good look, but Odom shot the ball left-handed. That's something he typically does since he's a left-handed shooter, but Odom didn't have the angle. On the next possession, Evans drove right past Farmar to the rack and drew the foul on Gasol after making the layup. Though Evans missed the free throw, the basket gave the Kings a 37-34 edge.
3rd quarter, 5:13 - 4:58
At the 5:13 mark, Odom subbed in for Gasol and immediately established his presence. Odom passed the ball to Ron Artest as he cut to the near perimeter. Artest then drove into the lane past Nocioni, drew a double team from Carl Landry and then kicked it out to an open Odom at the top of the key. He drilled the three-pointer, giving the Lakers a 67-57 lead.
3rd quarter, 1:56 - 1:45
Sasha Vujacic entered the game for Bynum with 2:39 remaining in the third quarter, and he proved that The Machine still has a little bit of oil left. After he passed the ball from the timeline to Brown at the near end, Vujacic made an L cut to the near corner. After Brown made an entry pass to Artest on the right block, Brown flashed toward Nocioni, who was marking Vujacic from the baseline. Artest passed to Vujacic after he penetrated along the corner. He sank the 21-footer, increasing the Lakers' lead to 73-64.
3rd quarter, 1:21 - 1:13
After Odom fed an entry pass to Gasol on the left block, Odom cut toward the right block and set a screen on Evans. Brown then curled to the free-throw line, caught a dump pass from Gasol, spun around Landry and made the floater. The Lakers led 75-64.
3rd quarter, :06 - :01
With Odom manning the point above the timeline, he looked to take Landry one-on-one. And that he did. Odom drove right and then switched to his left hand for the layup, giving the Lakers a 77-64 lead to close out the third quarter. The Lakers' last six points all came from the team's reserves.
4th quarter, 11:49 - 11:37
After Brown successfully contested Casspi's missed three-pointer, Bryant grabbed the board and led the break. As Sacramento's defense struggled to get back, Vujacic raced along the far sideline toward the corner. Bryant found him wide open for the corner 17-footer, which increased the Lakers' lead to 79-68.
4th quarter, 10:35 - 10:26
Brown again contested Nacione's shot and it resulted in an air ball. Vujacic batted the loose ball in the direction of Gasol, who picked it up just above Sacramento's three-point line. At the timeline, Gasol threw the ball to Brown, who was open just outside the right block. He caught the ball and drove in for the one-handed slam, giving LetShannonDunk.com another clip to add to its highlight reel and adding to the Lakers' 84-68 cushion.
4th quarter, 6:31 - 6:24
After Odom fed Gasol on the right block, Odom set a screen on Casspi by the free-throw line. Gasol kicked it out to Odom at the top of the key and then drove the right baseline as Casspi tried to catch up. But Vujacic had enough leverage to make the right-handed layup, extending the Lakers' lead to 90-78.
4th quarter, 4:39 - 4:35
As Odom brought the ball up the court, Bryant set a screen by the free-throw line extended on Landry. Though Landry didn't bite and instead backed down inside, Odom had enough of an angle on the right side to charge in for the layup. Odom also drew the charge, though he didn't convert on the three-point play. Nonetheless, Odom's layup gave the Lakers a 93-82 advantage.
What This Means
The Lakers' effort against Sacramento provides solid evidence why Jackson remains reluctant to rely heavily on the reserves besides Odom. It explains why Derek Fisher is the preferred option at point guard, regardless of any FIsh's struggles and the strides Brown and Farmar made in the middle of the season. It explains why Bynum starts instead of Odom, given Bynum's need to get involved early, Odom's wish to delegate as well as Odom's maturity -- a necessary quality one of the reserves needs to have so someone can lead the unit.
But the episode also shows that Jackson is willing to give the reserves a chance, just not when the game is on the line. Jackson went to that rotation in the second quarter because he wanted to give his starters some rest after logging heavy minutes Monday against Golden State. He was willing to have them play through the second-quarter meltdown, apparently confident the Lakers' starters could reverse the fortunes in the second half. And when the Lakers built up another sizable lead in the third quarter, Jackson gave the bench another shot to prove themselves.
No doubt, the individual contributions are different among the reserves. Though Odom has his disappearing nights, he's largely been a dependable inside-outside threat this season. Before Vujacic injured his shoulder, he appeared to be gaining confidence. Meanwhile, Vujacic's return has resulted in less time for Farmar, who has often been frustrated with his limited role and often plays outside of the triangle offense. After a breakout beginning that entailed a trip to the Slam Dunk contest, Brown has played inconsistently as of late and has been plagued by poor decision-making. And Morrison has largely struggled getting definitive footing in the rotation.
Nonetheless, the Lakers' latest game proved that the bench can make the difference, for better or worse. And though the team has top-heavy talent, mostly in Bryant, Gasol and Bynum, it will help down the line for the bench to establish and maintain consistency. The starters' rest depends on it.
Photo: Lakers' Jordan Farmar passes between Sacramento's Jason Thompson, left, and Tyreke Evans during Tuesday's game. Credit: Carl Costas / MCT.