It is crunch time for the Lakers. There are 12 games left in the 2011-2012 season and playoff position is becoming more and more important. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol rank among the highest in the NBA for minutes played per game. Bryant recently admitted that his extreme minutes may have affected his poor shooting of late, which is unlike him to admit to the media.
As we near the post-season, most teams who have all but secured a playoff position will begin to slightly decrease their star players’ minutes in order to give them a bit of rest. However, the Lakers are not in this position yet and will not be in this position anytime soon. Why? The Laker bench has proved over this season that they cannot sustain the team or simply close a game when the starters have put them in position to do so.
According to Hoopsstats.com, currently the Lakers’ bench ranks last in the league for points per game with 20.8, 28th in the league for rebounds with 11.9, last in the league for steals with 1.8, 28th in the league with 1.2 and 29th in the league with an efficiency rating of 26.6. These numbers simply won’t cut it.
Everyone who knows the Lakers realizes that Bryant, Gasol and the other starters will almost definitely play their current averaged minutes per game for the rest out the season. Rest will be scarce for the starters. However, there is a more realistic and more effective reason why the Lakers’ bench needs to step up their contributions in the closing month of the regular season.
Referring to the lackluster effort that the Miami Heat played with against the Boston Celtics last Sunday, Laker legend Magic Johnson said,
“You can’t turn it on and off. They think they can, but they can’t.”
Magic Johnson went on to say that he’s never seen a team that struggled its way into the playoffs emerge as an NBA champion, and he’s probably right. In other words, the team must end the regular season strong to start the post-season strong. The Lakers as an entire team are still fine-tuning their rhythm on the court. Yet, the bench needs far more improvement.
“You have to have someone coming off the bench who has experience, knowledge and ability.”
However, in the Lakers case they seem to be still searching for this player(s). For the Lakers, this player used to be Lamar Odom. Mike Brown thought this player would be Metta World Peace at the beginning of the season. We all know how that has worked out.
Depending on who the Lakers face in the first round of the playoffs, which changes on a nightly basis it seems, they will face a tough challenge regarding the opposing bench contribution. For example, Dallas has the third highest bench production in the league, Denver has the highest bench production in the league, Houston’s bench is ranked 13th and Utah’s bench is ranked fifth. Remember, the Lakers’ bench is last in the league and couldn’t keep up with the Mavericks’ bench in last year’s playoffs.
Now is the time for one or two bench players to step up to the plate and lead the bench. I think Steve Blake and Matt Barnes would be the best candidates for this position. The closing 10 games of the regular season are crucial for momentum and rhythm. Success in the post-season depends on it. It’s all about finishing strong.