Last night, the Los Angeles Lakers bench provided one of their worst performances of the season, a performance which was the catalyst for last night's defeat at the hands of the Utah Jazz, despite leading in the game by as much as 19 points on the back of a terrific first quarter by the starters. With nearly 20% of the season in the books, the Lakers bench has rarely failed to deliver, and after a quick review of the box score, I can't find a single game in which all three of the difference makers off the bench failed to make an impact. Even last night, Matt Barnes provided good energy, even if he was part of a unit that, as a whole, played miserably. And yet, even though the bench has been stellar this season, last night's sub-par performance did not feel strange, because last season, we were "treated" to quite a few games of this type.
Last night was a vintage loss from the 2009-2010 Lakers. Starters come out and build big lead, bench comes in and loses big lead, rest of game is a struggle from which the Lakers either win or lose a close game. If games were like scripts, this game would be an Adam Sandler movie: Always the same, and often disappointing. It is that disappointing familiarity which should remind you of just how lucky we've been as Laker fans this season, because instead of Rob Schneider and Steve Buscemi, we've been treated to a steady dose of Oscar quality supporting performances from the guys who start the game off the court.
Talking about the Lakers bench improvement isn't exactly groundbreaking analysis these days. The bench has been one of the major story lines of the young season, along with the (related) explosion of Shannon Brown, and the potential MVP candidacy of Pau Gasol. The trio of Matt Barnes, Shannon Brown, and Steve Blake provide everything you could want in a bench unit. Barnes is your classic energy guy, and his activity has sparked quite a few runs this season. Brown has transformed before our eyes to become the scoring machine off the bench that every team needs. And Blake provides the consistency and leadership that often prevent exactly the kind of situation that occurred last night.
Compare that to last season. Brown and Jordan Farmar took turns trying to be the scoring machine, but neither could do it with the effectiveness and consistency required. I guess Lamar Odom provided the leadership, but he spent lots of games starting, leaving the bench with no one to fill that role. And energy? So often, the bench didn't play with much energy, which, considering the youth on the Lakers bench last season, is pretty ridiculous.
The bench played a bad game last night, there's no doubt about it. Steve Blake couldn't hit a shot and Shannon Brown was failing to find clean shots within the offense. Barnes played well enough, but wasn't the difference maker we've known him to be. The bench combined for only 13 points the whole night, which barely covers Brown's average on the year. However, even in a poor performance, you can see just how improved the Lakers bench is this season. After all, a majority of those seven missed shots for Steve Blake were wide open looks that he would normally drain. Brown missed shots that he's been hitting all year long, and very few of them had be muttering under my breath about a need for more passing.
Even as the bench contributed heavily to losing that 19 point lead the Lakers built in the 1st quarter of last night's game, even as they had one of the worst performances of the season, you can see just how much the Lakers bench has improved this season, because last night's misery was an average night on the job for the bench one year ago. And with Andrew Bynum yet to be added to the mix, allowing the Lakers to keep a significant post threat on the court at all times, it's only going to get better.