Reserves have eased the strain
The injuries have added up, one medical chart after another being pushed across the desks in the Lakers’ front office.
Andrew Bynum: 47 games lost to injury. Trevor Ariza: 44 games. Chris Mihm: 43 games. Pau Gasol: 10 games.
“It’s been kind of a roller-coaster season,” Kobe Bryant said. “We’ve had to adjust and change our style of play seemingly every two weeks.”
It has put an added strain on the Lakers’ reserves, many of whom have been shuttled in and out of the starting lineup despite the long-term goal of a steady, capable second unit.
But the reserves have responded, time after time.
Sasha Vujacic turned into a legitimate three-point threat. Ronny Turiaf is averaging career highs in points and rebounds. Jordan Farmar pushes the pace.
“We’ve been saying all year long that we have the best bench in the NBA,” Vujacic said. “In the [reserves’] huddle before the game, we always say that we want to go out there and show everybody what we can do. And we’ve been doing that throughout the year. Now that the playoffs are knocking on the door, we want to be ready.”
Coach Phil Jackson questioned a brief lapse by the second unit last week and ordered more long-distance shooting work for Vujacic and Farmar.
“Our bench is giving us some input, but we’re not shooting well,” he said at the time. “Sasha and Jordan are not consistent enough from three-point to really give us that [push] that they gave us earlier. We tried to get that back a little bit by some extra shooting.”
The second unit provided a large enough cushion that Bryant didn’t have to play past the third quarter Sunday against San Antonio.
Jackson was happier after that game.
“I’ve been pleased with the bench,” he said, smiling.
Bryant finished with 15 technical fouls after not picking one up in the Lakers’ last 10 games. He would have been suspended for a game had he picked up a 16th. The slate now resets for the playoffs, where players are allowed six technical fouls before being suspended for a game after their seventh technical.
Coby Karl is hoping to pull off a rare double feature.
The undrafted rookie will remain with the D-Fenders, the Lakers’ Development League affiliate, until their playoff run is over, and will rejoin the Lakers after that.
“I get to be part of both playoffs,” he said. “Hopefully, I can get two championships.”