Each player faced rejection in their basketball life. Too bad. They’re not taking no for answer.
They all come from various backgrounds that suggest they’re damaged goods with labels including draft bust, injury-prone, streaky and one-dimensional. So what. They still believe they can overcome that perception.
Their names hardly slip off a casual fan’s tongue. Who cares. They remain intent they’ll become recognized soon enough.
That moment happened in the Lakers’ 116-103 victory Tuesday over the Clippers in a designated home game at Staples Center, and it’s likely that only they expected it. The Lakers’ bench combined for 76 points, the third highest total in franchise history. They played the entire fourth quarter and closed out the game scoring the last 46 points. And as they hustled and high-fived their way toward victory, perhaps Kobe Bryant could take his time rehabbing his left torn Achilles tendon.
“We can win every game if we go out and play,” said Lakers guard Jordan Farmar, who posted 16 points on 6 of 10 shooting in 27 minutes. “We’re talented enough to make that happen. We’re just trying to hold down the fort until we get our whole team back. We’ll see how far we can take this.”
That they already took this with a season-opening win against the Clippers says plenty already.
Weren’t the Clippers supposed to carve up the Lakers’ defense with a heavy serving of Chris Paul? Wasn’t Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan supposed to continue Lob City? Wasn’t Clippers coach Doc Rivers supposed to bring a championship attitude to this new team? With plans to cover up the Lakers’ championship banners and retired jerseys during home games, weren’t the Clippers supposed to prove they can also beat them much like they did last season in a regular-season sweep?
“To be fair, the Clippers got a little tired,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said. “They had their first game. They didn’t have their legs totally. These guys are young and full of adrenaline. We were able to do something with it.”
That they did.
Pick any guy on the bench unit, and he served a need.
Need solid play-making? Give that to Farmar (16 points). Need some timely three-point shooting? Farmar, Jodie Meeks and Xavier Henry will provide that with a combined 5 of 12 clip. Need a player capable of shredding the Clippers’ defense by driving to the basket? Henry has that covered, posting a career-high 22 points on 8 of 13 shooting mostly on attacking the rim. Need a post presence based on mid-range jumpers? Chris Kaman has you covered with 10 points on a 5 of 10 clip. Need some rebounding? Kaman and Jordan Hill will gladly provide the hustle plays and grab a combined 16 boards.
“Our attitude is the biggest thing we have going,” Henry said. “We have guys who are ready to go get it. We’re hungry and we want to go out there and beat somebody up.”
The Lakers’ bench showed that in different ways.
Farmar, who wanted out of the Turkish Basketball League since November so he could play in his second stint with the Lakers, played so well that D’Antoni seemed comfortable enough in playing the creaky Steve Nash for only 21 minutes. Wesley Johnson overcame his 1 of 11 effort by holding Clippers forward Blake Griffin scoreless in the fourth quarter, prompting D’Antoni to compare him to when he coached Shawn Marion in Phoenix.
Meeks shed his label as a feast-or-famine shooter, by well, making shots. After being selected with the 12th overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft only led to uneventful stints in Memphis and New Orleans, Henry’s relentlessness in attacking the basket and hitting outside shots explains why D’Antoni considered him the most pleasant surprise in training camp. After fighting an upset stomach all week, Kaman flushed out constant energy. Though it appears Jordan Hill dropped in the depth chart, he proved his value with 12 points and eight boards.
So much for the Lakers’ concerns surrounding the departures to Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace and when Bryant will return to the lineup. A year after ranking 28th overall in bench points, that unit became significantly better.
“Chemistry means a lot and they’re good guys,” D’Antoni said. “They’ve very coachable. They want to win. They’re doing everything right. When you do that, you have a chance to play different guys. You don’t need one guy to be the star every night. Everybody has a chance and is playing hard and is rooting for everybody else. It’s just the positive energy. To me, that’s the biggest thing, You can feel it from everybody. It was a little bit different last year where it was all cold. This time, it was pretty warm.”
The bench’s play left Pau Gasol happily sitting the entire fourth quarter after stewing last year when he sat at the end of games.
“It’s a total different situation,” Gasol said. “When a team is doing so well and guys are busting their butt and playing as a unit, I’m happy to be watching and supporting the team from the sidelines.”
The bench’s play left the Lakers cautiously optimistic on the big-picture implications.
“If we’re going to be a good team and exceed expectations,” Nash said, “our second unit will have to make a lot of ground for us.”
And the bench’s play revealed a quality on why this unit could thrive consistently.
“Everybody respects and believes in each other and wants the next person to be successful,” Farmar said. “Sometimes NBA players just go through the motions and just go through the plays that are called. But if you do it with a purpose with the intention of getting your teammate open or seeing them be successful and make good shots, it’s a different energy.”
And with that, the Lakers brought a new wave of excitement. Despite Dodgers star Yasiel Puig attending the game, that buzz had little to do with star power, glitz and glamour. It had everything toward an assembled bunch of castoffs combining for one common goal.
“We have a lot of guys. If somebody played a lot of minutes today, they might not play as many tomorrow,” Henry said. “We have guys who can pick them up. For 82 games, us being so deep helps a lot.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org