On Sunday night, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 113-93 in a blowout victory. This was the first win of 2013 for the Lakers, and it was the first time this year the 18,997 fans at Staples Center went home with tacos. The Lakers also snapped a six-game losing streak, so the players and the coach were relieved to finally earn a positive result.
Still, no one was exactly popping champagne at beating the second worst team in the Eastern Conference at home. With Anderson Verejao out with injury, if the Lakers did not beat Cleveland, the scene inside and outside Staples Center may have turned ugly.
Metta World Peace said, “This game, we’re supposed to win,” and Dwight Howard repeated those same sentiments when addressing the media after scoring 22 points and grabbing 14 rebounds on the night.
However, one noticeable improvement was the Lakers’ bench play. A byproduct of a season filled with injuries was the Lakers’ bench earning quality game minutes and confidence early in the season.
Earl Clark may be a starter at the moment, but he expects to return to the bench when Pau Gasol is cleared of his concussion. Considering his play, Clark expects to play valuable minutes even after Gasol is back in the team.
Clark’s addition to the rotation has converted the bench players into a bench unit, and Antawn Jamison is again earning consistent minutes. Jamison has performed, as well. Jamison is averaging 17.5 points and 7 rebounds over the past two games.
In both halves, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni put out five bench players (including Clark at this time for the sake of calling it the bench unit) without any of his superstar starters. Both times, the bench unit held strong and did not allow the lead to slip.
Allowing the starters to rest is a major benefit to finishing games and keeping an old team from tiring out. After the game, Chris Duhon, point guard of the second unit, discussed the importance of having a productive bench unit.
“It gives Kobe more time to rest,” Duhon said. “Steve [Nash], Dwight [Howard], guys that finish the game most of the time for us, it gives them an opportunity to get a good break.”
With the emergence of Clark and Sacre, the experience of Duhon and Jamison, and the early season game-time of Darius Morris, the Lakers have five bench players who are capable of holding or building leads. With Jodie Meeks also fitting into that group depending on matchups, the Lakers can comfortably play 11 players deep. Devin Ebanks appears to be the odd man out, but even he can provide some scoring off the bench, if need be.
The Lakers may have finally produced a good win that featured offensive balance, defense energy, and the return of Dwight Howard, but the contribution of the bench unit was the most exciting aspect of Sunday night’s victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.