With Kobe Bryant wearing a suit for the fourth straight game, no Laker played better basketball than Matt Barnes, who scored a season-high 24 points on 9 of 11 shooting (four of four three-pointers) to lead L.A. to a 103-97 win over Denver on Friday night.
Barnes had been solid in the three previous Bryant-less games, averaging 8.0 points on 45 percent shooting plus seven boards per game, and added 10 more boards for his second double-double of the season vs. the Nuggets. To Metta World Peace, the energy level of his fellow small forward is to what the rest of the team should be aspiring.
“Matt Barnes is on a whole other level right now,” World Peace exclaimed. “He’s very fired up. You see the red in his eyes. We all need to get on his level.”
To Barnes, it’s the only way to do it.
“When we play hard, we’re a tough team to beat,” he said. “We’re so talented, but sometimes we’re lazy. When we’re lazy, we allow teams to do stuff that shouldn’t normally happen.”
Barnes takes issue with those judging L.A.’s bench solely by its scoring – or lack there of – since the unit ranks 30th in the NBA in points, because scoring isn’t what’s asked of the bench … not when Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum have the offense run through them for nearly all 48 minutes. Indeed, even when four bench players are on the floor, either Gasol or Bynum is out there to anchor the unit, and get the majority of the touches and shots. Furthermore, each of L.A.’s primary scoring options play big minutes, Bynum’s 35:17 the low, as only Boston’s bench (15. 6 minutes) gets fewer than the Lakers’ 15.8 per game.
“There’s been talk all year that the bench can’t do this or other guys can’t do that,” Barnes said after his 24-point scoring night. “This team is a very talented team and we know our roles. My job is not going to be to score like this every night. My job is to bring energy and play hard. With nights when Kobe is out, guys have to step up.”
And so, despite Barnes’ scoring uptick (he had 13 in the team’s win at San Antonio), defense and energy remain his areas of focus, especially once Bryant returns to the line up. He hopes that will prove a useful combination as the Lakers gear up for a playoff run.