Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks support each other
During a shooting drill, Lakers forwards Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks stood on opposite sides of the same basket hoisting jumpers.
Each time one went in, they shouted encouragement to each other. Lakers basketball operations assistant Kyle Triggs stood by collecting the balls. But if one landed out of Triggs' reach, both Ebanks and Barnes willingly hustled for the loose ball and passed it back to his teammate.
With Lakers Coach Mike Brown "still searching" for the best lineup rotation, Barnes and Ebanks have separated their hope to win the starting small forward spot from their support for each other.
"Guys have to be on their P's and Q's," Brown said, and that includes Ebanks and Barnes holding any frustration about their minutes in check.
Barnes' 16-point effort and strong defense on Monta Ellis in the Lakers' 97-90 win over the Golden State Warriors made Brown concede that a string of similar performances would "help out" his cause in landing a permanent starting spot. Meanwhile, Ebanks took a rapid fall after starting in the first four games to remaining on the bench in four of the last five. But Ebanks still relishes competing with Barnes.
"We're very supportive of each other," Ebanks said. "We know the business of the game. Somebody has to sit down. That's pretty much what it is."
When Ebanks started the first four games of the season, Barnes remained seated at the far end of the bench, even attempted to check himself in during one game he didn't play and received zero minutes in two of those contests. But he tweeted a congratulatory message to Ebanks on the starting spot and helped him keep his confidence level up.
"I definitely think it's a competitive spirit, but we're all still friends," Barnes said. "We all hang out. It's not a rivalry. When the other is out there, you cheer for them."
Still, neither appears interested in taking a backseat to each other.
Brown said Barnes' 16-point effort provided "exactly how I think he should get them — in the flow or transition" and that his effort in guarding Ellis marked an improvement in playing "solid defense without gambling." There's plenty of areas that keep Barnes confident he can maintain his position. He professed his surgically repaired right knee feels 100%. The stinger he suffered in his neck against Golden State didn't force him to sit out that game or any of Saturday's practice. And after dropping his weight from 230 pounds to 213, Barnes believes he feels "lighter and faster."
"I'd much rather be playing," Barnes said. "Whoever doesn't want to be playing shouldn't be in the league."
Ebanks says he feels the same way.
But first there's areas he needs to correct. Brown wants Ebanks to provide more than the 3.4 rebounds per game he's averaged. Ebanks, who got into early foul trouble last week against Knicks forward Carmelo Anthony, needs to play in stronger defensive position. Meanwhile, Ebanks professes to be overthinking and lacking much confidence.
"They're throwing a lot of things at us right now that's new to us," said Ebanks, who's averaged five points per game on 42.1% shooting in 19.8 minutes per game. "It's hard to digest and then go out and perform and play. But those are things you have to overcome."
Regardless of how this positional competition plays out, there's still one thing Barnes and Ebanks have already overcome.
For Barnes, it involves maintaining support for Ebanks even as his rotation changes.
"To help him is to win games," Barnes said of Ebanks. If I can help him on the defensive end, shortcuts on the offensive end and ways he can get easy baskets. I'll be a professional and try to help him out in any way possible."
For Ebanks, it involves sharpening his game while handling his demotion in the same professional manner as Barnes did.
"Just being a team player, really," Ebanks said. "It goes back to those kind of small things. It's Coach's decision so you just got to live with it."
-- Mark Medina
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