Luke Walton takes advantage of rare opportunity
The thunderous applause rained down on Staples Center.
Kobe Bryant's reverse two-handed alley-oop slam from Matt Barnes in the Lakers' 99-83 victory Tuesday over the Phoenix Suns epitomized the Black Mamba's dominating 48-point performance. It showcased how an innovative procedure on his surgically repaired right knee has helped Bryant suddenly discover the fountain of youth. And to a much lesser degree, Barnes' perfect lob pass shows how he's reveled in providing instant energy at the starting small forward position.
Lost in that limelight, however, stood an unheralded figure who proved instrumental in setting up that play in the first place.
Yes. the player many Laker fans love to ridicule for his two-year, $11.49-million contract while wondering whether the front office will dump him via the amnesty provision, was the same player that provided a key bench contribution against the Suns. He epitomized his six-point effort on three-of-seven shooting, eight rebounds and three assists in a season-high 26 minutes by grabbing an offensive rebound off Bryant's miss and passing out to Barnes before the eventual alley-oop.
"I wanted to do everything I could in the minutes I was given," Walton said. "I went out, had fun and it was good."
Walton's increased playing time simply involved circumstances. The Lakers had a depleted frontcourt with Josh McRoberts (sprained left big toe), Troy Murphy (gastroenteritis) and Jason Kapono (his wife, Ashley, gave birth to twin girls, Isla and Campbell) unavailable against Phoenix. After playing in only 10 minutes all season through three games, Walton's standing remained so flimsy that Lakers Coach Mike Brown said he felt unsure heading into the game how many minutes he'd give to Walton.
Walton's on-court play provided more clarity for Brown.
"Luke Walton was phenomenal," Brown said. "You talk about a pro's pro. He kept himself ready. His number was called and he stepped in and had a whale of a game for us."
Laker fans shouldn't feel or joke that suddenly Walton will receive a six-year, $30-million extension. It's possible either McRoberts, Murphy or Kapono will return as early as Wednesday's game against Utah. But it was at least a nice change of pace. Walton was limited in the 2009-10 season to only 29 games because of a pinched nerve in his lower back. He only appeared in 54 games last season because former Lakers Coach Phil Jackson thought he lacked speed. But at least for one night, Walton provided a good outing during tough circumstances.
"This was just fun," Walton said. "My confidence was fine. But it was frustration not playing. It was a lot of fun to get out there with the guys and play some ball and get a win."
— Mark Medina
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