Before the season started, L.A. boasted the league’s best depth up front, courtesy of starters Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol with Lamar Odom eagerly waiting to contribute off the bench.
Wednesday night in Houston, however, the Lakers will have but one of that threesome, Gasol, since Bynum remains out after tearing his MCL in January and Odom’s serving a one-game suspension for leaving the bench in Portland on Monday.
Expected to start in Odom’s place is power forward Josh Powell – though Phil Jackson’s yet to officially say who’ll get the nod – while center D.J. Mbenga could see extended minutes as the primary big off the bench.
“Every time you’re on the court is an opportunity to showcase what you can do, and I’m looking forward to it,” said Powell. “But most important is to just come in and get a win. That’s all I’m thinking about.”
Powell said he’s comfortable playing with the starters, and plans to compete the same way he always does. In fact, that’s exactly what Mbenga said.
“I’m just going to play my game,” he explained before meeting his close friend and countryman from Congo, Rockets center Dikembe Mutombo, for lunch. “I want to be physical with Yao Ming, block shots and provide energy.”
In his last three games, Mbenga has swatted nine shots, scored 22 points and grabbed nine rebounds in roughly 17 minutes per game. Powell, who’s gotten more playing time throughout the season particularly since Bynum went down, has showcased an obvious toughness, soft jumper and rebounding skills on both ends of the floor. He scored 14 points with six rebounds in 19 minutes against the Timberwolves on Friday night, and grabbed a season-high eight boards the previous game against Memphis. While neither Mbenga nor Powell have Odom’s passing or ball-handling abilities, their more rugged collective style could be useful against a tough Rockets squad.