Very few people gave the Los Angeles Lakers the benefit of the doubt when it came to their chances of winning on opening night and succeeding in making the playoffs this season, but maybe there’s still hope as the performance by Xavier Henry and the rest of the bench unit shows that there might be more to this team than meets the eye.
The Lakers simply played harder than the slightly arrogant Los Angeles Clippers, winning 116-103 thanks to a big 41-24 fourth quarter, and an outstanding contribution from their bench. They got 76 points from their replacements, which is the most by a Lakers bench unit since 1988, not to mention a huge improvement when compared to last season; the Lakers ranked 28th in the NBA in bench points per game with only 26.1.
It’s not that the names are much bigger this year, but maybe hearing that this team can’t win anything, especially without Kobe Bryant, did the work. Xavier Henry scored 22 points and Jordan Farmar had quite an impressive return to the team he won NBA titles with, scoring 16 points and adding 6 assists in the win. Mike D’Antoni realized the guys he started with: Steve Nash, Steve Blake, Nick Young, Shane Williams and Pau Gasol, are more of a liability on the night and kept them on the bench while the second unit swept the Clippers off the floor.
So is everything good? Not really. The Lakers won’t get this kind of effort and success from Chris Kaman, Jordan Hill and the others who begin the game sitting on the pinewood. Scoring 76 points while shooting 59.1% from the field (excluding the awful Wesley Johnson) isn’t something that happens every day. For more prolonged success, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol need to be better.
For now, it looks like the bench is more suited to run D’Antoni’s system than the original point guard. Nash played for 21 minutes, scoring only 3 points and adding 5 assists. The oldest player in the NBA looked every bit of 39, finding it very difficult to keep up with whoever he was guarding, be it Chris Paul or J.J. Redick. Pau Gasol didn’t do much better, scoring 15 points on 5-of-12 from the field, but he did grab 13 rebounds and looks more comfortable playing as the lone big man in the lineup.
D’Antoni got offensive tools on the bench that are equipped to thrive in a fast paced game: Farmar, Kaman, Hill, Henry and Meeks are all players that are much more athletic than what the starting lineup has to offer. The problems on defense didn’t really matter as the Clippers simply seemed outwitted (coaching-wise) and stunned by a game that should have been all sewn for them before it began. It was probably that attitude that cost them the win, while the Lakers seem less than surprised that they looked so good.
It’s not a bad thing to be the underdog sometimes. No expectations. We go out there and play hard. What’s the worst that can happen? We lose, and people say we’re no good?