Monthly Archive for November, 2010

Lakers 96, Grizzlies 98: Nov. 30 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s road game at Memphis, as the Lakers looked to get back into the win column after back-to-back losses at Utah and vs. Indiana, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Odom and P. Gasol
Grizzlies: M. Conley, X. Henry*, R. Gay, Z. Randolph and M. Gasol
*Henry was starting his third game of the season, with former starter O.J. Mayo being moved to the bench to offer more scoring punch to the second unit.

FIRST QUARTER
6:00 It was all Kobe and Pau in the opening six minutes for L.A., the two All-Stars scoring six points apiece in a 12-11 Lakers lead. This wasn’t necessarily a good thing, however; Phil Jackson had lamented his team’s lack of proper ball movement within the triangle offense in Sunday’s loss to Indiana, and it wasn’t much better early on as L.A.’s only assist came on a Bryant dish to Gasol.

3:00 Sometimes we neglect to notice how well Artest is playing on the defensive end because his offensive contributions have been limited this year, but despite not taking a shot in the first nine minutes, Ron Ron held a hot-all-season Rudy Gay to two points with L.A. leading 21-20.

0:00 Bryant and Gasol got some help from their friends as the quarter wore on, with Fisher nailing two jumpers and Artest and Brown hitting back-to-back driving shots to allow L.A. a 27-all tie out of the first quarter. In unrelated news, Memphis had a bunch of senior citizens perform the “Dougie” dance during intermission, which was admittedly quite enjoyable.

SECOND QUARTER
8:09 One common threat in L.A.’s two straight losses? The previously hot bench trio of Steve Blake, Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown had made only two threes, this after a collective 23 makes in the previous three games. Blake tried to start trending back the other way by knocking one down early in the third, before Bryant added a triple of his own and a driving layup to put L.A. up 37-31 while reaching 16 points.

3:00 Ah, the dilemma of sitting Gasol. Phil Jackson’s been looking to get him more rest than his much-publicized 38-ish minutes per game on the season, but when he subs him out, the Lakers inevitably go into a slide. This time, Memphis ran out for easy buckets as rookie Derrick Caracter gave Gasol a two-minute break, going on a 6-0 run to erase the Lakers’ lead.

0:00 We saw many of the same problems that affected L.A. adversely in its previous two losses in the first half, with too much dependence on Bryant (6-for-16 field goals), too little Lamar Odom (only two field goal attempts), not enough bench help (nine total points) and little relief for Gasol in the paint. Nonetheless, the Lakers trailed by only two points at 51-49, despite turning the ball over nine times to just three from the Grizzlies, who conceded zero points to L.A. off those TO’s. Mike Conley led Memphis with 13 points, frequently either getting or finding himself wide open,

THIRD QUARTER
7:30 A disturbing trend has developed of late for the Lakers in the name of allowing point in the paint. The Grizzlies scored inside on four of six possessions, the other two times getting a wide-open three from Mike Conley and Xavier Henry’s long two, to open a 64-53 advantage, the home team’s biggest lead of the night.

2:15 Struggling considerably from the field (7-for-21 after starting 3-of-6), Bryant got a jumper to fall from the corner to cut the lead to seven before getting his final rest of the game, Brown joining Barnes, Blake, Artest and Gasol

0:21.1 Barnes, on one end keeping up the solid D of Rudy Gay that held Memphis’s top player to 12 points, snuck in for a layup through traffic to cut the Grizzlies lead to five at 70-65 heading into the fourth quarter.
Continue reading ‘Lakers 96, Grizzlies 98: Nov. 30 Running Diary’

Lakers Ready to Get Grizzly in Memphis

Exactly four weeks ago, the Lakers (13-4) welcomed the Grizzlies (7-10) to STAPLES Center in a somewhat crude manner, thoroughly dominating what was eventually a 124-105 win by taking a 34-23 lead after one quarter, reaching 73 points at halftime and holding a 97-76 lead after three quarters that enabled the starters to use the fourth quarter to ice up.

They certainly don’t expect things to be so easy in Memphis on Tuesday night, as a Grizz team looking for revenge comes in having won three consecutive games at home. We compared some of the respective team’s numbers up to this point of the season to take a closer look:

Point/game: LAL rank 1st and MEM 13th
FG pct. LAL 9th and MEM 10th
FT pct. LAL 2nd and MEM 25th
3-pt FG pct. LAL 2nd, MEM 23rd
Off. Reb./gm LAL 5th, MEM 11th
Def. Reb./gm LAL 3rd, MEM 23rd
Reb./gm: LAL 3rd, MEM 17th
Asst./gm: LAL 4th, MEM 21st(t)
Stls./gm: MEM 2nd, LAL 9th
TO’s./gm: LAL 6th, MEM 25th
Blks./gm: LAL 13th(t), MEM 20th(t)

A few other notes heading into the contest:

- The Lakers have won eight of the last 10 games between the two teams and lead the all-time series 43-14.
- The Lakers have won five of six games at the FedEx Forum in Memphis.
- Kobe Bryant surpassed Jerry West’s all-time Lakers scoring record last season in Memphis during a 44-point outburst, but L.A. lost when Ron Artest missed a potential game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer.
- Pau Gasol remains the Grizzlies all-time leader in points (8,966), rebounds (4,096) and blocks (877).
- Since the Lakers acquired Gasol from the Grizzlies on Feb. 1, 2008, they have lost three consecutive games only once, at Miami, Charlotte and Orlando last March. In related news, of Phil Jackson’s 11 championship teams, only three have lost three consecutive games during the regular season.
- Rudy Gay is off to a terrific start to the season for the Grizz after re-signing with the team, averaging career highs in points (21.5), rebounds (6.9), assists (2.9) and minutes (40.5, first in the NBA).
- O.J. Mayo has recently moved the the bench, with lottery pick Xavier Henry now starting as coach Lionel Hollins looks for more scoring punch off the pine.

Bench Woes + Gasol’s Minutes = So What?

The Lakers have lost two consecutive games, a trend so narrow in an 82-game season that it’d hardly be worthy of a mention if, well, the Lakers weren’t the Lakers*. When losses happen to a team as talented and experienced as L.A., questions pile up quickly, this time around focusing on the tired legs of Pau Gasol and the lack of productivity from what had been the NBA’s best bench throughout the first 15 games of the season, 13 of which were wins.
*In fairness, this season’s Miami Heat, featuring the SuperFriends, get heat for each loss, so the Lakers are actually not the league’s most scrutinized squad.

But can we actually draw anything significant out of two November losses?

Well, Kobe Bryant explained away Friday’s defeat in hostile Utah to a few missed shots, his team otherwise playing well enough to win. As Bryant stated explicitly after the game, if L.A. plays like it did in that loss, the team simply isn’t going to lose four times in a playoff series. They haven’t, after all, done so en route to winning the past two championships.

Sunday’s loss to Indiana had a similarly simple — if less acceptable — explanation, this time from Phil Jackson’s lips: “We played a lethargic game,” he said. “I thought Indiana out-hustled us & obviously it paid off for them.”

And there you have it, time to publish this article.

(editing)

(fixing grammatical errors)

…Wait, what’s that? You still want some info behind the lack of bench production, namely from the “Killer B’s” combo of Matt Barnes, Steve Blake and Shannon Brown and the related impact upon Gasol’s minutes and Bryant’s production? Didn’t Phil and Kobe explain things?

OK, fine:

KILLER B’S: LAST 2 GAMES (L’s @ UTA, vs. IND)
Matt Barnes: 7.5 ppg on 6-of-12 FG’s (50.0%), one 3-pointer made, 3.5 rpg, 1.0 apg, 0.5 spg in 21 mpg
Steve Blake: 1.5 ppg on 1-for-9 FG’s (11.1%), one 3-pointer made, 2.0 apg, 1.5 rpg, 0.5 spg in 21.5 mpg
Shannon Brown: 4.5 ppg on 4-of-17 FG’s (23.5%), zero 3-pointers made, 4.0 rpg, 0.5 apg, 1.0 spg in 16 mpg
TOTALS: 4.5 ppg on 28.9% FG’s, 0.67 3-pointers made, 3.0 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.6 spg, 19.5 mpg

KILLER B’S: PREVIOUS 3 GAMES (W’s @MIN, vs. G.S. & CHI)
Matt Barnes*: 14.3 ppg on 13-of-21 FG’s (61.9%), nine 3-pointers made, 5.0 rpg, 4.0 apg, 1.3 spg in 25 mpg
Steve Blake: 5.0 ppg on 5-for-11 FG’s (45.5%), five 3-pointers made, 3.0 apg, 2.3 rpg, 1.3 spg in 21 mpg
Shannon Brown:16.3 ppg on 17-of-30 FG’s (56.6%), nine 3-pointers made, 3.3 rpg, 1.6 apg, 0.6 spg in 21 mpg
TOTALS: 11.9 ppg on 56.5% FG’s, 7.6 3-pointers made, 3.5 rpg, 2.9 apg, 1.1 spg in 22.3 mpg
*Barnes’s averages obviously got a huge boost from his perfect 7-for-7 FG, 5-for-5 3-pointers performance at Minnesota.

And to go a bit further:

1) The Killer B’s were indeed quite peaceful (fruit flies?) against Utah and Indiana despite playing close to the same number of minutes. The rebounding, assist and steal numbers weren’t too far off, but the scoring dropped dramatically from an average of 11.9 collective points in the wins versus 4.5 total points in the two losses, due in large part to a massive drop off in field goal percentage (56.5 percent to 28.9 percent).
2) The B’s went nuts from three-point land in the three wins, making a combined 22 long bombs, but totaled only two triples in the losses.
3) When the bench production is suddenly gone, it puts far more stress on Bryant and Gasol in particular to carry the team offensively. It demands more minutes particularly in crunch time from the two All-Stars and affects the legs of each defensively, especially Gasol, charged with protecting the paint at times by himself. This is reflected directly in Bryant’s scoring numbers, as No. 24 averaged 36.5 points in the two losses and just 21 points in the three losses while playing about five more minutes per game in the losses despite his efficiency actually improving as he scored more, his field goal percentage going from 37 percent in the wins to 44 percent in the losses. The Spaniard, meanwhile, did manage to make 9-of-14 shots at Utah, but did nearly all of his damage in the first half before tiring late; against Indiana he managed to make only 5-of-15 shots. He also made only 3-of-10 shots against Chicago as the Bulls double-teamed him and harassed him with Joakim Noah, and was 6-of-13 against Minnesota before his perfect 10-for-10 performance against Golden State.

Fortunately for the Lakers, there’s a quick fix for Gasol’s minutes (not to mention his matchups) on the way soon enough in the form of space-eating 7-foot center Andrew Bynum, who looked great in Monday’s practice (check out the picture of him dunking on the Lakers.com home page) and is at most a couple of weeks away from playing in games. Meanwhile, while the Killer B’s probably won’t be averaging 7.6 three-pointers per game, they also won’t be held to a collective of 4.5 points very often, and there have been no signs that the unit’s defensive energy is going anywhere.

We’ve yet to mention the names of starters Lamar Odom (who has played consistently well enough across the past five games), Derek Fisher (who’s struggled along with Brown with his shot in the two losses after starting the season red hot) or Ron Artest (who’s been almost completely absent on offense while focusing on D), but Ron Ron may have summed it all up best:

“We slipped a little bit, but we’ll be okay.”

Ebanks Back At Practice After Missing Game

UCLA Health SystemLakers rookie forward Devin Ebanks returned to practice on Monday a day after missing Sunday evening’s game due to a bout with gastroenteritis, more commonly known as the stomach flu.

Ebanks participating in a 4-on-4 drills during the final portion of practice, teaming with Derrick Caracter, Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton against Andrew Bynum, Shannon Brown, Matt Barnes and Steve Blake.

Ebanks is available for the team’s Tuesday evening contest in Memphis.

Lakers – Pacers Postgame Numbers

We highlighted some of the more interesting numbers from the Lakers 95-92 loss on Sunday evening against Indiana at STAPLES Center that saw L.A.’s record drop to 13-4 on the season.

41 Season-high points scored by Kobe Bryant on 14-of-33 shooting, including 3-for-8 from three and 10-of-13 free throws. Bryant scored 23 of his 41 in the second half, but they weren’t enough to get the Lakers a win for this reason:

“I thought we played a lethargic game tonight,” summarized Phil Jackson. “I thought (Indiana) out-hustled us and obviously it paid off for them.”

38.7 Pau Gasol’s minutes per game heading into the contest, which ranked 8th highest in the NBA. Phil Jackson mentioned this fact as a concern before the game, and sure enough, Gasol looked tired down the stretch after playing all but three of the game’s 48 minutes. He was only 5-for-15 from the field towards his 13 points with 12 rebounds and three blocks.

38.6 L.A.’s shooting percentage.

23 Combined percentage of shots made by Derek Fisher (2-for-8) and Shannon Brown (2-for-9). Phil Jackson neglected to worry about it, suggesting that “shooters will go through a slump,” referring to the fact that the two guards were also a combined 3-for-15 at Utah on Friday.

15 Straight points scored by Bryant in the final 4:37 of the third quarter, cutting Indiana’s 15-point lead down to eight heading into the fourth. This a game after Bryant scored 14 straight in the fourth quarter against Indiana. For all the scoring Bryant did, he didn’t even want to talk about offense after the contest, instead relaying his genuine anger about how the team failed to play good defense.

14 Bench points from the Lakers in the second straight poor outing from a second unit that was outstanding for most of the team’s first 15 games. Steve Blake attempted only two shots, though his one make was an important fourth quarter three, while Matt Barnes was 3-for-6 alongside Brown’s 2-for-9.

3 Consecutive crunch time possessions in which the Pacers used offensive rebounds to score points.

1 Victory for Indiana at STAPLES Center, ever, coming on 11/28/10.

Lakers 92, Pacers 95: Nov. 28 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s home contest against the Indiana Pacers, as the Lakers looked to get back into the win column after a tough loss in Utah, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Odom and Gasol
Pacers: D. Collison, M. Dunleavy, D. Granger, J. McRoberts and R. Hibbert

FIRST QUARTER
8:17 In a contest far more relaxed than the one L.A. came out of with a loss on Friday in Utah, Odom’s three and Gasol’s long two followed six early points from Bryant for an early 12-7 edge. Indiana had started Brandon Rush instead of usual starter Mike Dunleavy to attempt to guard Kobe, but that didn’t prevent No. 24 from getting the shots he wanted.

0:00 Indiana, feeling a bit warm in Los Angeles in the absence of its usual winter environment, was treated with a heavy dose of Kobe in the first. Eleven field goal attempts, though rendering just four makes, produced 13 points from the league’s fourth leading scorer, five points coming at the foul line, to help L.A. towards a narrow 26-23 lead in the first.

SECOND QUARTER
12:00 We saw Gasol get pulled with two minutes to play in the first, the first sign of Phil Jackson’s pregame mention that his primary concern at this early stage of the season is over-extending Gasol’s minutes. The team came into the season with the expectation that Andrew Bynum would be ready to play far earlier than things have turned out, wasn’t expecting Theo Ratliff to miss extended time and isn’t confident doling out big minutes to Derrick Caracter due to the rookie’s inexperience. Gasol still found himself back in alongside subs Blake, Brown, Barnes and starter Artest to open the second.

5:22 Indiana had a chance to go up six with the Lakers going through a lull at both ends, but backup point guard T.J. Ford missed a wide-open layup, and L.A. scored in transition through Matt Barnes (seven points in 10 minutes) to cut Indy’s lead to just two.

0:10.2 For some strange reason, the Pacers went under a Gasol screen to leave Bryant with an open look at a triple, which he obviously drained. The problem was, L.A. conceded an easy shot in the paint to Collison at the other end, allowing Indiana a 51-45 lead at the break.

THIRD QUARTER
8:44 So, that wasn’t what Phil Jackson and his staff expected out of halftime. Instead of the usual defensive push, the Lakers conceded the first eight points of the period to fall behind by 14 at 59-45 after three minutes and change. A few Lakers, namely Bryant, Gasol and Odom didn’t look amused at the amount of physicality being allowed in the paint, and had yet to adjust.

2:48 L.A. just couldn’t seem to get untracked, conceding consecutive buckets to Hibbert and Granger after Bryant’s three had cut the margin to 11, Indy opening a game-high 15-point margin with just under 15 minutes to play. But in the next minute and change, Bryant capped off a stretch in which he scored 13 consecutive Lakers points (one fewer than his fourth quarter run in Utah on Friday) to cut Indy’s lead to nine at 76-67.

0:08.7 Sorry, make that 15 straight Kobe points. In Black Mamba mode, Bryant finished a tremendously difficult reverse layup, using a whole lot of English off the glass plus the foul, and even with the missed free throw cut Indy’s lead down to eight while igniting what had been a quiet crowd. Chants of “MVP” always come out at least to a degree when Kobe goes to the line, but this time, it was a full serenade from STAPLES Center.
Continue reading ‘Lakers 92, Pacers 95: Nov. 28 Running Diary’

Andrew Bynum: Nov. 27 Injury Update

UCLA Health SystemWith each coming day, Lakers center Andrew Bynum is progressing just a little bit more as he continues to rehabilitate his knee towards the goal of returning to game action in two or three weeks.

During Saturday’s practice, Bynum participated in 1-on-1 drills for the first time, going up against rookie center Derrick Caracter in a session he said went well. Bynum also went through some skill work, execution drills and a rebounding session with the team.

“We had a little bit of contact because we did a double rebound session that put bodies on bodies out there to see how he’d react,” said Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, who said that his 7-footer responded well.

Bynum’s next progression will be a game of 3-on-3, which he hopes comes soon.

“I’m feeling pretty good,” the 23-year-old offered. “Getting in shape … I got a little bit bigger in my upper body, working out my legs, just trying to get strong, stay strong.”

“”We’re starting to put him on the floor (to do skill work) and see how he reacts to that,” said Jackson. “We can’t gauge what’s going to go on until tomorrow, basically, see how he feels after a work out like this.”

As has been the case throughout training camp and the regular season, Bynum has yet to identify a specific target date for his return, though he acknowledged that the middle of the month is a reasonable goal.

“I want to get back probably more than they want me back at this point because they want me to be healthy,” Bynum concluded.

Lakers 96, Jazz 102: Nov. 26 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s road game in Salt Lake City as the Lakers looked to win their sixth straight overall game and fourth on the road, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Odom and Gasol
Jazz: D. Williams, R. Bell, A. Kirilenko, P. Millsap, A. Jefferson

FIRST QUARTER
5:54 The Jazz have been a tough team to figure out this season, as they own both the league’s most impressive road streak with wins over Miami, Orlando, Atlanta and Charlotte, as well as three uncharacteristic home losses. Among their chief struggles has come on the backboards, as they rank just 25th in the league, while the Lakers came in as the NBA’s top boarding team even without Andrew Bynum. That played out a bit in the opening minutes, as Gasol and Odom controlled the paint for L.A., collecting five total boards, while an 8-0 run at the other end produced a 17-8 lead for the visitors. Gasol, meanwhile, took only six minutes to match his field goal total against the Bulls (3-for-3 after a 3-for-10 game on Tuesday).

2:08 Gasol and Odom continued their dominance, totaling 15 points, eight boards and three assists with the Lakers opening a 26-14 lead and looking oblivious to one of the league’s tougher environments. By the end of the quarter, the two bigs had had yet to miss a shot, going 8-for-8 for 19 points. The lead at the break was 33-17, L.A. shooting an impressive 68.4 percent to Utah’s 33.3 percent. Bryant hit half his shots (3-of-6) and added three dimes, while Matt Barnes picked up where he left off on Tuesday against the Bulls, hitting a triple to close the scoring.

SECOND QUARTER
8:18 L.A.’s control of the game had kept Utah’s fans practically out of the action until a momentary return thanks to a massive one-handed dunk from lil’ Ronnie Price, but Shannon Brown responded immediately with an and-1 that put L.A. up 39-21. Crowd quiet again.

5:23 Remember that 18-point lead? The Lakers may not, having conceded an 11-0 run from the Jazz bench that quickly cut the lead to only seven at 39-32. Utah’s unconventional two point guard line up gave the Lakers problems, as Earl Watson and Price combined for nine of those 11 points just after Gasol went to the bench. It was a rare poor performance for the Killer B’s, as Brown and Blake combined to make only one of nine attempts from the field.

0:00 For a moment, Kobe went into “OK then, I’ll do it myself” mode for a suddenly stagnant Lakers offense, and despite struggling from the field (1-for-6 in the quarter) scored the final five points of the second to counter a 27-11 Jazz run that erased L.A.’s 19-point lead entirely. Gasol didn’t take a shot in eight second quarter minutes after making 5-of-6 in the first, but L.A. still managed to hold a 50-46 lead at the break.

THIRD QUARTER
8:08 To underscore the point from the first half, the Lakers continued to take jumpers to open the third, and Phil Jackson wasn’t happy, audibly yelling “Throw the ball inside!” while pointing to Gasol with his players walking in for a time out. In related news, the Jazz had cut the lead to one.

3:58 Odom recovered a loose ball for L.A. and stuck it back in to follow two straight makes from Gasol, as the Lakers did their best to heed Jackson’s plea. But at the other end, the Lakers were struggling to get stops, conceding a Kirilenko three, Millsap layup and two Williams free throws in a 66-all game.

0:00 Well, apparently the guards took their Turkey Trot loss to the bigs tough, because L.A. could hardly get a made field goal out of its backcourt: Bryant (6-for-17); Brown (1-for-6); Blake (0-for-6); Fisher (1-for-6). Yikes. Utah took advantage to take a 75-72 lead into the fourth quarter.
Continue reading ‘Lakers 96, Jazz 102: Nov. 26 Running Diary’

Laker “Bigs” Win Phil’s Turkey Trot

The general principal behind Phil Jackson’s annual Turkey Trot, a Thanksgiving Day scrimmage between guards and big men, is that each appreciate the differing skills one another possess while having a bit of fun along the way.

Big men — whom Jackson has referred to as “Goons” — aren’t supposed to be able to handle the ball and shoot as well as their small counterparts, while the guards theoretically lack the bigs’ ability to rebound, score in the paint, block shots and the like.

But with Andrew Bynum and Theo Ratliff out injured and Pau Gasol resting, the Laker “Bigs” were really more like the Laker “Wings.” Here was your roster:

BIGS: Derrick Caracter (6-9), Lamar Odom (6-10), Ron Artest (6-7), Devin Ebanks (6-9), Luke Walton (6-8)
SMALLS: Derek Fisher (6-1), Steve Blake (6-3), Shannon Brown (6-4), Sasha Vujacic (6-7) and Matt Barnes (6-7)

With team training staffers Chip Schaefer and Marco Nunez reffing, it was the bigs taking home a four-point victory in a game both Ebanks and Caracter said was very competitive throughout.

The two rookies were quick to name the other as the game’s “MVP,” while both players also explained that some East Coast roots had a lot to do with the victory. With three players from Queens (Odom, Artest and Ebanks) and one from New Jersey (Caracter), ball handling wasn’t as much of an issue as it may have otherwise been for a group of guys 6-7 and above.

We’ll have to wait and see which group performs better against Utah on Friday night, however, to see if anything out of the Turkey Trot carries into the games that actually count.

Lakers – Jazz: A Look at the Benches

When we previewed L.A.’s Black Friday matchup with the Jazz in Utah, we took a look at the disparity in production between the team’s respective benches.

On the surface, the Lakers are getting key contributions especially from their Killer B’s particularly on the scoring front: 11.8 points from Shannon Brown, 9.4 from Matt Barnes and 5.9 from Steve Blake, not to mention 5.6 boards from Barnes, two assists from Blake and active defense from all three. On the other hand, while Utah is getting 11.4 points from C.J. Miles to match Brown’s scoring production, it’s received only a total of about 10 points from the rest of a second group that includes Ronnie Price, Earl Watson, Francisco Elson, Gordon Hayward and Kyrylo Fesenko.

But those numbers don’t do justice to what’s actually been a valuable Jazz pine unit of late.

As reported in the Salt Lake Tribune, the 11-5 Jazz have had notable recent success with a non-traditional second line up with two point guards (Watson and Price) and two centers (Elson and Fesenko), featuring Miles and his scoring on the wing.

“They’ve been instrumental in a lot of our wins,” Deron Williams told the Tribune’s Brian T. Smith. “The first group’s still sluggish to start games and that group gets out and runs. They run; they get after people defensively. It’s something we need to get that first group to do.”

During Utah’s current three-game winning streak, the bench has contributed notably in each victory, starting with 25 points from Miles and six assists from Watson in a 103-94 victory over Portland. Next came 20 more Miles points as well as nine from Price in a 94-83 win against Sacramento, and finally a total of 28 points between Watson, Elson, Price and Miles in the team’s most recent 105-87 win against New Orleans.

“Instrumental” is an adjective that could also be used to describe L.A.’s bench throughout the team’s 13-2 start to the season. Its most impressive performance may have come on Tuesday evening against Chicago, when Brown scored 18 of his 21 points in the first half, and Barnes and Blake (two) nailed three consecutive three-pointers during a critical fourth quarter run to put the Bulls away. The Lakers ended up with a 39-10 edge in bench scoring in a 98-91 victory.

In short, whichever bench unit proves to be more instrumental in Salt Lake City could go a long way towards determining the winner.