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.”