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Matt Barnes earns elevated role

January 7, 2012 | 11:58 am

Without anyone trailing him in sight, Matt Barnes sprinted for a transition basket. Moments later, he found Kobe Bryant open for an easy jumper. And throughout the rest of the game, Barnes rarely gave much room for Golden State Warriors guard Monta Ellis to operate.

These plays epitomized what Barnes provided in an elevated role in the Lakers' 97-90 victory Friday against the Golden State Warriors. He posted a season-high 16 points on seven-of-nine shooting, six rebounds, five assists and two steals in 30 minutes. But it didn't come right away. Barnes spent the first four games of the season as the third small forward behind Devin Ebanks and Metta World Peace. He didn't even play in two games. And despite the public professionalism in handling the demotion, Barnes remained understandably frustrated with the lack of playing time.

That all changed against Golden State. 

"It felt good to actually get out be in there and get a rhythm," Barnes said. "I've been in and out a lot early in the season. It's been hard to catch a rhythm defensively or offensively. Tonight coach went with me and I was able to catch my second wind."

The result: Barnes provided the Lakers a needed scoring option at a vital time. Bryant scored 39 points on 13-of-28 shooting, but the Lakers hardly want him having to shoulder all of the load while playing with a torn ligament in his right wrist. Andrew Bynum might have moved up in the pecking order ahead of Pau Gasol, but his nine points on three-of-nine shooting illustrated his trouble with double teams. And don't even get started on the bench. Josh McRoberts missed the last three games because of a sprained big toe on his left foot. The unit played a large part in the Lakers' horrific three-of-11 clip from three-point range. And World Peace provided next to nothing with only two points on one-of-three shooting. 

Lakers Coach Mike Brown wouldn't pencil Barnes as the definitive starting small forward yet. But he acknowledged World Peace's zero minutes in the second half pointed directly to Barnes' play. 

"With the way Matt is playing and the way he stepped up tonight, he's doing a nice job on trying to hold onto that thing permanently," Brown said. "But there's some things I'm trying to figure out."

That's because Brown said in general terms that he wants Barnes to avoid making mistakes on a consistent basis. Regardless, Barnes proved against Golden State his true value. His surgically repaired right knee no longer hindered him and he says he feels 100%. Despite suffering a mild right shoulder injury, Barnes wore padding and didn't need to go to the locker room for treatment. And even if Ellis scored 18 points on eight-of-20 shooting, that is shy of Ellis' average of 22.8 points, which ranks eighth in the league. It also saved Bryant's legs from having to do the work himself. 

Before every game, Barnes pleaded with Brown to allow him to guard the team's best player. But even when the Lakers met the New York Knicks last week, Brown favored Ebanks to cover Carmelo Anthony. That strategy quickly backfired when Ebanks got into foul trouble, and Barnes proved to be the worthy option. That hardly was the case in the Lakers' loss Thursday to Portland. Neither Barnes, World Peace nor Ebanks had any answer in stopping Gerald Wallace, who finished with 31 points.

But at least for one game, Barnes provided more clarity at the small forward position.

"i just appreciate the opportunity," said Barnes, a 10-year veteran. "I know nothing has ever been given to me. everything I'm going to do is a grind. It's not going to be an easy walk. I just have to stay professional through it."


Kobe Bryant senses change in pecking order for Gasol, Bynum

Devin Ebanks, Matt Barnes maintain professionalism for starting spot

Matt Barnes deserves starting spot

--Mark Medina

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