They were a surprising source of force in an equally surprising start to the season.
But the Lakers' reserves have been benched, in effect.
After racking up 67 points against Phoenix and 73 against Chicago in wins this month, the backups have done little to halt the Lakers' recent slump, which stands at three losses and an uninspiring victory Tuesday against Seattle.
The reserves were shuffled five games ago when Kwame Brown went down because of knee and ankle injuries, forcing Andrew Bynum to play more with the first unit. Then came last week's trade, in which peripheral contributors Maurice Evans and Brian Cook were sent to Orlando for Trevor Ariza.
The trade surprised some of the Lakers, who were privately concerned that the reserves' success could be affected by losing Evans and Cook.
The results so far haven't been appealing. Other than a decent showing in Boston, Lakers reserves have been outscored by their counterparts from Seattle, 33-23; New Jersey, 43-20, and Milwaukee, 39-25. (Vince Carter scored 19 points off the bench for the Nets, making that game only slightly more forgivable for the Lakers' backups.)
"The second unit is a lot of building chemistry together, and we kind of had a real solid chemistry," forward Luke Walton said. "Then between injury and trades, people were getting moved from the second unit to the first unit, and the first unit to the second unit, and we kind of lost our flow and rhythm that we had there for a bit."
Walton, in particular, has been off-stride, averaging 3.7 points and shooting 29.4% over the last three games.
"It's hard," he said of being a reserve. "It's definitely harder to play that way, but at the same time, you can't really make excuses."
The Lakers on Wednesday assigned rookie guard Coby Karl to their minor-league affiliate, the Los Angeles D-Fenders.
Karl, an undrafted rookie from Boise State, has two points in two games this season.
Players in their first two seasons can be assigned to the Development League up to three times a season.
Chris Mihm made only two of 10 shots in the Lakers' 106-99 victory over Seattle, the continuation of a trying recovery from two ankle surgeries.
"He's struggling right now," Coach Phil Jackson said. "We are aware of it. He fights his way through it. He's a conscientious guy. He's one of our adults we have on the team, so we know he's going to give us a good effort and not make excuses or complain about it."
Seattle rookie Kevin Durant expressed admiration after playing against Kobe Bryant on Tuesday.
"He brings that intensity to the whole game and he gets the crowd going," Durant said. "You always learn from playing against a player like that."
Bryant had 35 points, Durant had 25 in the game.
vs. Denver, 7:30, TNT
Site -- Staples Center.
Radio -- 570; 1330.
Records -- Lakers 8-6; Nuggets 9-6.
Record vs. Nuggets (2006-07) -- 1-3.
Update -- Denver continues to be driven by two scorers (Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson) and a defensive presence (Marcus Camby). Former Lakers guard Von Wafer is averaging 1.3 points in 11 games for the Nuggets.