Lakers' Fatigue, Bench Play Still Areas of Concern

All season long during the Lakers' 65-win campaign, someone always seemed to step up when the team needed a lift to get them over the hump. It wasn't necessarily the same person every time, but someone other than Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol seemed to come through when it mattered most.

So far in this post-season -- save for a couple of clutch steals from Trevor Ariza -- that hasn't been the case.

The Nuggets' J.R. Smith scored as many points (24) as the Lakers' entire bench did in Game 4, and L.A. had all seven of their active reserves see some time on the court. Five of them played 14 or more minutes, and most were ineffective. Which begs the question: aren't playoff rotations supposed to be tighter? Why is Jackson going 10 players deep at this late stage of the playoffs?

One word: fatigue.

Bryant and Gasol have been forced to play almost 40 minutes per game each to get the Lakers to this point in the playoffs, and quite frankly, they're exhausted. Bryant had to get an IV immediately after Game 3, and those missed free throws down the stretch we saw from Gasol in the first couple of games were clearly the result of tired legs. Jackson would love to get them some more rest, and is trying to do just that by giving anyone in uniform a chance to produce.

One player in particular that should be out of chances by now is Sasha Vujacic. The Machine seems to be broken, and through 16 playoff games, he's hit on just 22 of his 81 field goal attempts, for a dismal 27 percent shooting. And it's not like Sasha provides assists, rebounds, or a defensive prowess that can help his team in other ways. He's there to knock down open shots -- period.

After practice on Tuesday, Phil Jackson discussed the issue with Vujacic.

"For a year or two we thought Sasha was an 11:00 player, played in practices, but he couldn’t fulfill it in games," Jackson said. "And that’s because he’s a very high energy guy and he gets animated or he has nervous energy when he’s in a game and sometimes he’s too quick, almost, shooting the ball. So we tried to slow him down a little bit. And in the process I think he’s at a point now where he’s starting to think about it. And that’s what you don’t want a shooter to do."

Vujacic is just one example of the Lakers' bench players failing the team when it needs them the most. But with L.A. having played 11 playoff games over the past 22 days, Jackson has no choice but to keep going to those reserves in order to give the few players that are still producing some valuable minutes of rest. He'll just have to hope that at some point, they start to come through as they have for most of the season.

Game 5 in Los Angeles would be a great place to start.

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