The immediate instincts for Matt Barnes and Devin Ebanks involve crashing the glass.
Barnes does it because he’s an effective slasher to the basket and thrives on making hustle points. Ebanks does it as a way to provide some value on a team that’s heavy with veteran-laden scorers.
The two have a new responsibility in the Lakers-Nuggets series as they fill in for Metta World Peace, who will serve a six-game suspension after elbowing Oklahoma City guard James Harden. Ebanks’ job description goes beyond starting at small forward two weeks after starting for seven games while Kobe Bryant sat out because of a sore left shin. Barnes’ job description goes beyond coming off the bench and providing energy despite nursing a sprained right ankle he described as still sore.
Their shared responsibility entails finding a way to defend Nuggets forward Danilo Gallinari after World Peace held him in tow on a combined three-of-18 clip in the four regular-season games. But with Denver averaging a league-leading 104.12 points per game significantly on fast-break points, Barnes and Ebanks must find a way to do that while tempering their instinct to grab rebounds.
“I have to crash a little less now knowing that they do run well,” Ebanks said. “I’ll get in there as much as I can, but I’ll mostly be getting back on defense.”
The Lakers plan to mostly cut their losses on offensive putbacks when they shoot long jumpers. Considering how much the Lakers lack in speed and athleticism, it’s the most practical preventable measure in minimizing a track meet. The Lakers also hope they will feature Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol despite Denver’s plan to throw double and triple teams. A methodical half-court set would slow down the tempo too.
But what about when Ebanks and Barnes match up head-to-head with Gallinari? Well, in that case all that concern about tempering their aggressiveness fades away. Although neither player hardly possesses the same defensive toughness as World Peace, both Barnes and Ebanks believe their length and aggressiveness will be enough. Barnes often intimidates scorers with his scrappiness. Ebanks’ length played a huge part in holding Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant to a five-of-19 clip last week in the fourth quarter and subsequent overtimes.
“We just have to play hard,” Barnes said. “We know he’s not here for the first round. There’s nothing we can do about it. We have to go out there and play hard.”