COMMENTARY | In Tuesday night's convincing victory over the Los Angeles Clippers, the Los Angeles Lakers' bench scored 76 points -- the highest total for a Lakers' bench since 1988. So, was opening night a fluke?
No, this current edition of the Los Angeles Lakers was built for and by Mike D'Antoni -- especially the bench.
For example, D'Antoni looks at Wesley Johnson and does not hesitate to make comparisons with former Phoenix Suns forward Shawn Marion. On Tuesday night, D'Antoni asked Johnson -- significantly undersized and inexperienced -- to shut down Blake Griffin in the fourth quarter. Johnson struggled offensively during the stretch and managed only one basket on five shots. Griffin, however, entirely disappeared.
With the shorter and lighter Johnson guarding him, Griffin failed to launch a single shot attempt, corral a single rebound, tab a single assist, or block a single shot. In eight minutes on the court in the fourth quarter, Griffin's only statistical contributions were two turnovers. Johnson's defense and athleticism were highlighted when he was signed, and the 26-year-old did not disappoint in his Lakers' debut.
"If we're going to play a little small, we have to be dynamic, and [Johnson] is dynamic," D'Antoni said after the game.
After the game, D'Antoni did not hesitate to bring up Marion's name and explain the importance of having Johnson in the team. "Most coaches haven't coached Shawn Marion," D'Antoni smiled when questioned about picking Johnson to guard Griffin down the stretch.
Then, there is Xavier Henry. Henry's first game with the Lakers finished with him surrounded by cameras and microphones. In his Lakers' debut, Henry led all scorers and recorded a career-high 22 points. Many would be quick to dismiss the 22-year-old's performance as a fluke, but it wasn't.
Henry consistently scored the basketball throughout preseason. He scored in double figures in four of the Lakers' eight preseason games. In the preseason opener, he shot 9-15 and recorded 29 points against the Warriors. If provided minutes, Henry scores.
Before Tuesday's game, D'Antoni was asked about his expectations for the game and season, and he pointed to Henry as one of the guys he was aching to see when the games counted.
"[Henry] could be really good," D'Antoni said before the season opener. "His talent level is as good as anybody, anywhere. Now depends, lights come on, can he do it?"
Well, the lights came on, and Henry did it. To his teammates and his coaches, Henry's performance was not a surprise. The 12th overall pick of the 2010 NBA draft treated his Lakers' regular-season debut as he treated his Lakers' preseason debut. He was aggressive, he was confident, and he scored the basketball.
About the time Henry was entering the NBA, Jordan Farmar was leaving Los Angeles for New Jersey. Not long after, the LA-native found himself abroad. Away from his family and the city where he grew up, Farmar says he matured as a human being and as a basketball player. He left significant money on the table to return to the Lakers this season, and the Lakers were lucky to get him.
Farmar appeared in only four preseason games due to a calf strain, but his production and play in those games provided enough evidence that he was greatly improved from the player that left the Lakers in the summer of 2010.
In the fourth quarter, Farmar outplayed Chris Paul, the premier point guard in the NBA. With the game in the balance and a national audience watching, Farmar scored nine points, dropped off three assists, and swiped one steal in the fourth quarter. He led his team to victory and managed the game brilliantly.
CP3 dropped in seven points and was unable to notch a single assist down the stretch, as his team crumbled under the watchful eyes of the Lakers' championship banners and retired jerseys.
With Steve Nash approaching 40 years of age, the Lakers have been discussing the possibility of sitting the Canadian for whole games at a time. Both D'Antoni and Nash have openly admitted that Farmar's play is a major factor in discussing that possibility, which appears to be a probability at this point.
Along with Farmar, Johnson, and Henry, the Lakers' bench features Jodie Meeks, Chris Kaman, and Jordan Hill. Meeks is a streaky three-point specialist who can get hot at any moment. In Tuesday's opener, Meeks drilled a couple three-pointers late in the game and contributed nine points in the eye-opening fourth quarter. Also, Meeks hustles on both ends of the floor, and his effort is always visible.
Kaman is an experienced big man who can shoot free throws. For Lakers fans, anyone who can grab rebounds and shoot free throws looks like an upgrade from Dwight Howard. Kaman combines with Pau Gasol to add size to the first unit, but he also serves as the lone anchor for the second unit. When Kaman isn't the anchor of the second unit, Jordan Hill is the guy who gets dirty on the boards and fights for loose balls.
In Tuesday's fourth quarter, Kaman found himself watching Hill anchor the second unit. Hill's five offensive rebounds in the fourth quarter against the Clippers served as yet another example of the 26-year-old's exceptional ability to end up with loose balls. The 26-year-old out of the University of Arizona does not look quick or particularly athletic, but he provides energy, effort, and toughness -- three things the Lakers seemed to be lacking a year ago.
The Lakers may have shocked the Clippers on opening night of the NBA season, but considering none of these reserves played beyond their talent levels, no one should be surprised the next time the Lakers' bench takes over a game.
It was not a fluke, and it will happen again.
Shahan Ahmed is a Yahoo Contributor in Sports and is a Los Angeles Lakers insider for NBC Los Angeles. He is based in Santa Monica but recently covered the Lakers in China. You can follow Shahan on Twitter @ShahanLA.
- Sports & Recreation
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Jordan Farmar
- Xavier Henry
- Wesley Johnson