Lakers Bench, Gasol Key Victory over Kings

60149560Lakers – Kings Gameday Page
In their final home contest of the 2009-10 regular season, the Lakers (57-24) won game No. 34 at STAPLES Center, 106-100, against the visiting Sacramento Kings on Tuesday evening.

Though the Purple and Gold had the Western Conference locked up and a slim chance of matching Orlando for the league’s second-best record*, and with Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum out with respective injuries, L.A. still found something to play for: the chance to get some guys going off the bench.
*Orlando would have to lose at home to Philadelphia with L.A. beating the Clippers.

As it turned out, the bench managed one of its better performances of the season in scoring 41 points to complement Pau Gasol’s game-high 28 points and eight rebounds, the Lakers holding off a late charge from the Kings in Sacramento’s final game of the season.

“Got that game competitive after getting a little 13 point lead at the end of the third quarter,” summarized Phil Jackson. “Had to dig in a little bit at the end of the game to sustain that victory. Good game by Pau Gasol and Shannon (Brown*). They led us in the scoring tonight and we had some help off the bench.”

60149844It wasn’t all good news off the bench, however, since Jordan Farmar strained his hamstring early in the second quarter. Farmar, however, will be active and could potentially play against the Clippers on Wednesday evening after being re-evaluated in the morning.

“He’ll dress tomorrow,” said Jackson of his quick-healing backup point guard. “He’s played 81 games this year. I want him to dress and be on the active roster for tomorrow’s game.”

The rest of the regular bench players all played a role in L.A.’s win, led by Sasha Vujacic’s season-high 13 points and six rebounds*, Luke Walton’s nine points with three assists in a season-high 24 minutes, and DJ Mbenga’s seven points with five boards (and his newly-gold dyed hair, matching that of Ron Artest). Regular sub Brown, starting in Bryant’s absence, added 24 points with three rebounds and three assists.
*Four of Vujacic’s season-high six rebounds came on the offensive end, including two tip ins, prompting this Phil Jackson postgame quip: “He’s an offensive rebounding Machine. That’s what he is now.”

Jackson suggested that Vujacic’s play has “got to make him feel much better about his game, and said that Walton “does things that create a little offensive rhythm for us and offensive opportunities.” While the team will continue to monitor how Walton’s back feels heading into the playoffs, he was happy at least with where things were on Tuesday.

“(My back) felt great,” he said. “It was a lot of fun out there, playing again and being out there and not having pain. To be out there and move and stuff was a lot of fun.”

Altogether, L.A.’s pine crew put up 24 points in the first half to help the Lakers take a 60-54 lead into the break, the home team shooting 52.3 percent thanks in part to Gasol’s 5-of-7. Sacramento wasn’t far behind, however, making 50 percent of their shots led by Jason Thompson’s 6-of-10 (15 points) and Francisco Garcia’s 5-for-8 (11 points).

60149846It was Vujacic who keyed the bench effort in the second half, not from the field but with those season-high six boards. Brown added 12 of his points, including a dagger jumper that put L.A. up 106-100 with 28 seconds remaining, getting that look thanks to good ball movement that had been a factor all night.

“We got the ball moving today and then everybody got good looks,” explained Brown.

The bench effort wouldn’t have mattered without the outstanding play of Gasol, who nailed 12-of-15 shots from the field to score his 28, marking the fifth straight game that he’d managed at least 23 points. In fact, Gasol’s averaged
27.6 points in those last five on 65 percent shooting, not to mention nearly 12 rebounds, five assists and three blocks.

“He’s had real good opportunities, he’s had some real exceptional games for us,” said Jackson. “Without Kobe on the floor he’s had more of a load to carry, so all those things have contributed to it. He’s going in at the right level which I want to see him play at the offensive end.”

In short, with Kobe Bryant getting some rest for the playoffs, the Lakers’ other superstar has been playing his best basketball.

The bench, meanwhile, will look to back up its collective performance with another good one in the Wednesday finale back at STAPLES Center, albeit on the road, but until then, your numbers:

POSTGAME NUMBERS
65 Pau Gasol’s shooting percentage in his last five games, during which he’s averaged 27.6 points, nearly 12 rebounds, five assists and three blocks. He went for 28 points, eight boards, three assists and a block against the Kings.

49.4 L.A.’s solid shooting percentage for the evening, though Sacramento hung around thanks to converting 47.8 percent of its own shots.

41 Bench points for the Lakers, paced by Sasha Vujacic’s 13, nine from Luke Walton – who played a season-high 24 minutes, and seven from DJ Mbenga.

24 Points for Shannon Brown, just three off his season and career high, on 10-of-19 shooting in place of Kobe Bryant, who rested the avulsion fracture on his right index finger.

13 Season-high point total for Sasha Vujacic, who made 5-of-9 shots, including a buzzer-beating three in the first quarter. He also managed a season-high six rebounds, four of which came on the offensive end, all in the second half.