The Lakers are on top of the Western Conference.
Their reserves might be there too.
Be it Sasha Vujacic‘s three-point accuracy, Jordan Farmar‘s push-the-pace persona or Ronny Turiaf’s liveliness around the basket, the Lakers have received continual contributions from their second unit.
Is it the best in the West?
“Well, we’d like to think it was,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
Like the conference race, it’s a close call.
San Antonio has a scoring machine in Manu Ginobili and hardy center-forward Kurt Thomas.
Phoenix has versatile Boris Diaw and whiz-quick Leandro Barbosa coming off the bench.
Dallas has veteran scorers in Jason Terry, who was a reserve for much of the season, and Jerry Stackhouse.
Utah has three-point ace Kyle Korver and burly forwards Paul Millsap and Matt Harpring.
New Orleans knew its bench was thin and acquired Bonzi Wells and Mike James from Houston in a deadline-day deal, although the Hornets traded Bobby Jackson, their only reliable second-unit scorer, to get it done.
Other than Luke Walton, who will return to reserve status after Vladimir Radmanovic recovers from a strained calf muscle, the Lakers’ backups are relatively young.
What Farmar (21 years old), Vujacic (23) and Turiaf (25) lack in experience is made up in other ways.
The second unit employs a different offense than the first five, moving the ball downcourt at a faster tempo and making defenses adjust on the fly from the less-frenetic triangle offense run by the starters.
The Lakers’ starters are thankful.
“We know that it’s a big weapon for us,” Kobe Bryant said. “It’s something that we can go to if we want to change the tempo, change the pace of the game.”
The reserves’ latest effort was on display Tuesday against Portland when three starters -- Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher and Walton -- combined for only 10 points, leaving an obvious gap in the scoring.
Farmar responded by making four of five three-point attempts and tying his career-high with 21 points. Vujacic had 12 points and continued his torrid three-point pace by making four of eight. Turiaf was nothing short of kinetic, blocking shots and converting two three-point plays.
Said Turiaf: “It’s pretty much plain and simple. Our job is to sustain the lead or try to increase it. We try to do our best.”
vs. Miami, 7:30, TNT
Site -- Staples Center.
Radio -- 570, 1330.
Records --Lakers 40-17, Heat 10-44.
Record vs. Heat -- 1-0.
Update -- Miami has the league’s worst record, although the Heat ended an 11-game losing streak with a 107-86 victory Tuesday over Sacramento. It was Miami’s first victory since trading Shaquille O’Neal on Feb. 6. The Lakers let a 17-point lead slip but beat the Heat, 104-94, on Feb. 10 in Miami.