Lakers’ bench vastly outplaying the starters

No longer are the Lakers worried about blowing leads. They’re wondering if they can get them. No longer are the Lakers’ reserves worried about a lack of playing time. They’re getting them. No longer are the Lakers’ starters worried about removing their ice bags and entering the game. Their poor play has kept them on the sideline.

After spending the past few seasons featuring a top-heavy lineup with little depth beneath them, the Lakers’ identity has flipped upside down.

With an injured Kobe Bryant, a limited Steve Nash and an underachieving Pau Gasol, the Lakers’ starting lineup has ranked last out of 30 NBA teams in several categories, including points (45.4), efficiency (45.6) and minutes (23.3). After ranking 28th out of 30 NBA teams as a unit last season, the Lakers’ reserves lead in the league in points (57.8), efficiency (58.1) and minutes (24.7).

Has Lakers coach Mike D’ANtoni ever seen anything like this?

“That’s usually not the case, so I would say no,” he said. “It doesn’t mean a whole lot other than the bench is playing really well and we got to get the starters geared up a little bit.”

But D’Antoni said he won’t plan to make any changes to his starting lineup entering the Lakers’ (4-3) game tonight against the Minnesota Timberwolves (4-2) at Staples Center, which will include Steve Nash (point guard), Steve Blake (shooting guard), Nick Young (small forward), Chris Kaman (power forward) and Pau Gasol (center).

D’Antoni has already fielded six different starting lineups with eight different players for multiple reasons. He has sat Steve Nash for two games on the second night of back-to-back games in hopes of preserving the 39-year-old’s body. With Shawne Williams averaging only 3.2 points on 35.3 percent shooting, D’Antoni’s preference for his floor spacing wasn’t enough to keep Kaman out of the lineup for the past two games. D’Antoni has shuffled Nick Young and Xavier Henry at the small forward spot, starting Young for three games, starting Henry for two and then starting Young for another two. Add it all up, and only Gasol and Blake have started every single game.

“Mike goes with the guys that are hotter out there especially and sticks with them throughout the game,” Gasol said. “But I think it’s got to be a balance. It’s not about who scores more, (it’s about) who is more effective. One night maybe the stars are going to score more and have more of an offensive role and then the bench guys who are more dynamic, quicker, who speed up the pace will score more (another night). It depends on how the game goes and who we’re matching up against. So, it’s not a concern for the starters group that the bench guys are doing well. We want the bench guys to be solid, to give us a boost every time we sit down and we have a deeper rotation.”

The Lakers’ league-leading 57.8 points leads tops Milwaukee (49.8) and Sacramento (45.3), and also has accounted for 57.5 percent of the team’s scoring. That included the Lakers scoring 76 points, the third highest in franchise history in the Lakers’ season opening win against the Clippers.

The most notable contributors? Jodie Meeks more consistent shooting has enabled him to average a team-leading 12.3 points on a 48.4 clip from three-point range. Though they’ve battled shooting inconsistency, Young (11.9 points) and Henry (10.1) points each had two-double-digit efforts off the bench. Jordan Hill has offered an efficient 6.1 points on 63.3 percent shooting and 6.3 rebounds in only 15.7 minutes per contests. Jordan Farmar’s 10.3 points on 40.9 percent shooting in 22.9 minutes has offered a sturdier presence than Nash’s 7.6 points per game average on a 27.9 percent clip.

It doesn’t help Gasol has only averaged 12 points on 35.2 percent shooting, career lows if those numbers hold up. Or aside from a game-winning trey against Houston where he went 5 of 10 from the field, Blake has only shot 34.4 percent.

What gives?

“They just have played better. They’re also playing against second line guys,” D’Antoni said of his bench. “You have to be careful. Sometimes it’s easy to say, ‘Let’s do that.” But it’s a little bit different when you’re playing against the second group and now you’ve become the starter. I’m sure the starters would love to play the second group. You have to be careful in saying, “This might work.” No it might not work. We have a couple of our starters who haven’t been playing great yet. But they will. They haven’t been yet. There’s no use panicking yet.”

RELATED:

Pau Gasol altered pre-game routine in hopes of ending slump

Mike D’Antoni: “We have to get mentally tougher”

Pau Gasol: “I just didn’t play very smart”

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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