Lakers' experiment fails

The Lakers put their depth to the test, and the results weren't good.

December 29, 2009, 12:43 AM

By: John Ireland

Lamar Odom likes to say that "the strength of our team is our depth." That theory was put to the test on Monday night in Phoenix.

Before the game, Phil Jackson was asked if all of the recent back-to-back games necessitated a deeper use of his bench.

"We'll experiment with that tonight," he answered.

Did he ever. In the first quarter, he used Adam Morrison, Josh Powell, Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar. He brought Shannon Brown and D.J. Mbenga in during the second quarter, meaning that every player dressed had played in the first half. I've been covering the Lakers for all nine of Jackson's seasons as a coach, and I can't remember that ever happening.

Besides the back-to-back games, Jackson also had to deal with fouls and injuries. Ron Artest wasn't even in Phoenix (concussion), and Luke Walton was still inactive with a bad back. Then, in the first half, both Odom and Kobe Bryant went down.

Early in the first quarter, Bryant was fouled while attempting a shot near the basket. He was hit directly on his right index finger -- the one with avulsion fracture -- that is heavily taped, with a splint on it.

Lakers' trainer Gary Vitti told me during the ensuing timeout that "every time we get it to the point where it's feeling better, it gets whacked."

And then I remembered: Kobe now has two broken fingers on his right (shooting) hand. His right pinkie is dislocated; and the tip of his right finger is fractured. On top of that, he injured his right elbow in Sacramento on Saturday night, and was he was wearing a heavy brace. He came out near the end of the first and stayed out while the Suns went on a 12-0 run.

Later, Odom sprained two fingers (index and middle) on his right hand. He stayed out for most of the second quarter, and when he returned, he committed his third foul and had to sit back down. Andrew Bynum also picked up three first-half fouls, and so did Powell.

The end result of all of this was that the Lakers would have to win as a team like never before. There are some games (many actually) when Kobe puts the Lakers on his back and just carries them to victory. Other times, it's the two-man tandem of Kobe and Pau Gasol. But not on this night -- if the Lakers were to get out of Arizona with a win, it would have to be with everybody pulling his own weight.

But it didn't happen. Defensively, the Lakers did a terrible job of covering the pick-and-roll -- leaving Suns players wide open for most of the second half. After shooting 43 percent in the first half, Phoenix scorched L.A. by shooting 54 percent in the second half and scoring 118 points. The Suns also buried 12 3-pointers, compared to just six for the Lakers.

"I wasn't happy with our starters or our bench," Jackson said after the game. "Nobody stayed focused on what we were trying to do."

The loss magnified something that might suggest the Lakers aren't as good as many think. Although L.A. has an NBA best record of 24-6, its record against winning teams is now a very average 6-6. In those six losses, the games haven't been even close. The average margin of victory for the Lakers' opponents in those games is more than 15. When you consider that the Lakers could have, and probably should have, lost to Miami, Milwaukee and Sacramento -- they still have a lot of work to do.

In regards to the bench, it would have been a huge confidence boost for the Lakers' back-ups to carry the load -- even for one game. I would imagine that as the team gets healthier, and as the fouls start to even out, Jackson will go back to an eight-man rotation. By the way, the Phoenix bench was given a similar opportunity to play on Monday, and outscored the Lakers bench 52-31.

"That's OK," Jordan Farmar told me, "it's not all about scoring. Our bench still gets the ball to Pau and Kobe and works within our offense. Just wasn't our night."

You can't say they didn't have their chance.


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