Bench Press

Pheonix has finally learned how to use its bench

The Los Suns (Los Soles?) were looking like Los Losers as this series began as Kobe Bryant and the Lakers were started to show that both defense and experience are needed to get past the Western Conference Finals.  However, those characteristics are starting to come under considerable question after last night’s performance by a bench that has been slowly turning heads over the last few weeks.

Even with the fall of Robin Lopez, this team is still competing despite a tough playoff schedule with series against Portland, San Antonio and now the Lakers.  With the lack of a serious big-man threat with Lopez out, the Suns lucked out against a beat-up Marcus Camby and an old Tim Duncan but the Lakers were suppose to offer more of a threat when it comes to size.  The signing of Ron Artest would allow the big men in Lamar Odom, Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to drift away from any sort of serious roll in the defense.  However, last night, they were out-rebounded by 15.  The basic premise is that they will become more predominant in the offense when they don’t have too much to worry about on the other end of the ball with both Artest and Bryant being defensive pests.  However, only Bynum has seen an increase in scoring and yet Jackson has become unhappy with his play.  Dallas’ front court averaged 11 more points per game on the season than the Lakers.

Then comes the Lakers’ bench (Something we have been criticizing for some time).  This group of losers scored only 20 points last night while Pheonix’s scored 54.  Louis Amundson, Goran Dragic, Jared Dudley and Channing Frye are all making names for themselves as of late.  Together, the four have only played in a total of 68 playoff games including last night’s.  To put this in perspective, Kobe has played in 123 since the 2000-01 Season.  Yet, their swagger is untouchable and Alvin Gentry’s trust in them is unfathomable.  Gentry kept all five reserves, including Leandro Barbosa, in during the first nine minutes of the fourth quarter.  They produced an 18-3 run.  The subs had turned an 87-85 deficit into a 103-94 lead.

Frye broke out of a terrible shooting slump by making four 3-pointers.  Barbosa had 14 points on 8-11 shooting.  Dudley had 11 points and Dragic ran the point perfectly with eight points and eight assists in only 18 minutes.  It shouldn’t be any news to anyone that this bench is actually producing.  They have been putting up solid numbers since the All-Star break averaging 34 points, 15.3 rebounds, 7.6 assists and shooting over 40 percent from beyond the arch.  The Lakers’ bench has only been putting up 24 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists per game in that same amount of time.

To be honest though, it all comes down to a matter of will.  Steve Nash says that he has gotten more rest than ever these playoffs and a lot of that can be traced back to Dragic.  He’s healthy and at the cusp of playing in his first finals ever.  Amar’e Stoudemire was let down by not being traded but is showing that he may be worth picking up come July due to his increased hustle.  He seems to care more now than ever now that he knows he has to prove something in order to get the big deal he wants. Having a good bench to utilize is something this team has never really had or really cared to have.  Mike D’Antoni’s system of full-court with a six-man rotation just doesn’t work well in a lengthy postseason.  Gentry and the Suns understand that you can’t run your way through the Western Conference Playoffs with an aging point guard and an extremely small rotation.

On the other end, Kobe has to pick this team up if they plan on finishing this series.  He’s scoring all he can but to be honest, that has not proven to be enough in seasons past.  Just because he wants it doesn’t mean the Lakers get it.  Same goes for Artest.  He has been the black sheep on this squad from day one and players usually don’t turn it around by the playoffs must less the Western Conference Finals.  Ron, if you haven’t figured it out by now, then it isn’t meant to be.

Phoenix needs to stay physical and get to the line.  The refs have shown that they are going to call personal fouls against both Odom and Bynum in this series.  Attack the basket while they are in the game and that will easily open up the 3-point shooting.  Gentry has to realize this and take advantage of it.  The bench is going to offer the matchup problems once personal fouls start adding up and the series gets lengthened.  Time is on Phoenix’s side but only if used right.  Crash and draw fouls or crash and kick out to Dudley, Nash or Frye.  It’s a simple plan that will have the Lakers playing full-court.  This will continue to wear down the LA’s starters and there you have it, Jackson will call on his dismal bench.  If you see Jordan Farmer and Luke Walton being difference makers in this serious, wake up.

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