Ways for Lakers bench to maintain effectiveness in Game 3 against New Orleans
For once the Lakers, after their 87-78 Game 2 victory Wednesday, could talk about how their reserves helped secure a win rather than blow a lead. For once, Steve Blake could explain what went into his aggressiveness than wonder how he remains so tentative. For once, Matt Barnes could feel the positive affects from his surgically repaired right knee than lament the limitations it has brought. And in a return to normalcy, Lamar Odom's 16 points on eight-of-12 shooting with seven rebounds validated his Sixth Man of the Year award, rather than allowing a rare poor outing in which he grabbed only one rebound, with six of his 10 points coming in garbage time to be used as evidence that his reality show is distracting him.
Yes, it was a good night for the Lakers' reserves, who combined for 27 points, held New Orleans' bench to 13 points on five-of-17 shooting and in the eyes of Coach Phil Jackson, were a "unit that advanced our cause." The question remains if the bench can replicate that kind of effort in Game 3, considering the hostile New Orleans crowd and the bench's overall inconsistency, including getting outscored 39-21 in the Lakers' 109-100 Game 1 loss to the Hornets.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is among those curious to see what happens.
"Hopefully it gives them something they can carry over to the next game," Bryant said, "in terms of how they execute it and what they did defensively."
Below the jump are a few ideas how.
1. Odom can provide momentum-changing plays. Jackson normally tightens his rotation in the playoffs in favor of his starters, preferring to find ways to win the game itself rather than focusing on development. That's mostly what the regular season is for, considering the value of giving the reserves teachable moments and giving them enough comfort to play through their mistakes. But one way to increase those minutes is by producing what Odom has called "momentum-changing plays."
Odom's a master at that by grabbing rebounds, firing outlet passes, making pull-up jumpers and finishing fast breaks with coast-to-coast layups. But the Lakers' bench should produce those mostly by staying disciplined on defense. That formula paid off for the Lakers in Game 2, where they scored 22 points off New Orleans' 16 turnovers. The Lakers aren't a fast-break team, or at least shouldn't be because of their veteran roster and size advantage. But the Lakers can create instant offense that way.
2. Blake needs to maintain his confidence. Blake acquiring chickenpox was no joke, but I couldn't help but wonder whether that did the same thing to him as what a spider bite did to Peter Parker. Blake had mentioned he was able to come back within a week's span of time because he was aggressive in following the doctor's orders in resting, taking antibiotics and avoiding contact.
Fatigue would've been an understandable concern in Game 2, and he acknowledged needing to sleep afterwards. But he played without much concern about pacing himself. The stats may appear modest -- 0 points on zero-of-two shooting and five assists, but he did "all the little things," as Bryant put it. He organized the offense and showed precise accuracy in finding the open man. When Blake went through a mostly season-wide poor shooting mark, the tentativeness in his playmaking abilities diminished. Blake restored that in Game 2 and there are no reasons besides possible energy concerns that he can't do the same in Game 3.
3. Barnes would benefit from an extended rotation. He had his surgically repaired right knee drained Thursday, a procedure Barnes said has allowed him to fully bend it. But he argued that he didn't enjoy the effects of that in Game 2, where he scored eight points on four-of-four shooting and four rebounds. In that game, he did well for one specific reason: "I got warm," Barnes said. "As long as I can get warm, I can be my own self." Barnes only played 12 minutes, but his first rotation came with 44 seconds left in the first quarter and he remained in the lineup until 5:43 remained in the second. His second stint came at the beginning of the fourth quarter, where he played for 4 minutes, 40 seconds. Even if his minutes are limited, Barnes showed that having a significant chunk in each rotation will help him remain efficient.
4. Shannon Brown needs to temper his shot selection. Don't be fooled by Brown's eight points on four-for-six shooting in the Lakers' Game 1 loss and conclude his shooting struggles are past him. For one, Brown went one-of-four from the field in Game 2. But another, NBA.com's StatsCube, shows Brown is most effective when he's scoring in the restricted area. He's gone three-of-four in in shots from that area, while going one-of-four in mid-range jumpers, going zero-of-one from three-point range and connecting on a field goal when he ran the fast break. Brown has been stubborn all season in not letting his shooting inconsistency stop him from continuing to fire up. The message isn't getting across to him, but surely decreased minutes will. As much as Brown wants to be a complete player, he should embrace scoring on fast-breaks or on hustle-type plays. Showing a better effort on defense will get produce offense for him and give Jackson more reason to keep him in the lineup.
-- Mark Medina
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Top photo: Lakers guard Shannon Brown has the ball stripped by Hornets forward Trevor Ariza during Game 2 on Wednesday night at Staples Center. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / April 20, 2011
Bottom photo: Lakers forward Lamar Odom (7) questions an official's call alongside power forward Pau Gasol during Sunday's 109-100 loss to New Orleans in Game 1 of their Western Conference playoff series on Sunday at Staples Center. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / April 17, 2011