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Trail Blazers Showing Little Left in Reserve

Pro basketball: Dunleavy gives much-hyped bench a very limited role in second consecutive defeat.


PORTLAND, Ore. — It's funny how the deepest team in the league can all of a sudden look so short-handed.

After recording a blowout victory over the Lakers in Game 2, the Portland Trail Blazers' bench was seen as the key to the Western Conference finals.

From Brian Grant and Bonzi Wells to Greg Anthony and Detlef Schrempf, Trail Blazer reserves were riding high when they returned to Portland for Games 3 and 4.

Then they played the games.

In Friday's Game 3 loss, Portland's bench scored 16 points, with seldom-used swingman Stacey Augmon getting half the total. Then, in Sunday's Game 4 defeat, Portland Coach Mike Dunleavy played only Grant and Wells more than four minutes and Schrempf did not play.

"I felt that this game was extremely important and we had some guys out there who are capable of playing bigger minutes," Dunleavy said. "I thought we could get the job done that way. Unfortunately, we didn't."

Every Portland starter played at least 29 minutes. Trail Blazer reserves were outscored by their Laker counterparts, 19-8. Grant, a key to the last season's playoff run, had five points and two rebounds. Wells, who had a big scoring night in Game 2, had only three points and three assists.

With so many talented teammates, Wells said it is tough to know who is going to play from one game to the next.

"You never know what Coach Dunleavy is going to do . . . all we can do is go out and play," Wells said. "He tried something different today. He thought it would be good but [instead] they capitalized."

Dunleavy may have relied on his starters because bench players were not effective when they were in the game. One Portland tactic that did not work too well was posting up Wells against the Lakers' smaller guards.

Wells missed three shots and made only three of six free throws. He even struggled against Derek Fisher, who is four inches shorter and 25 pounds lighter.

"I just had to be aggressive, that doesn't always mean getting shots but just being aggressive," said Fisher, who had seven points and three rebounds in 18 minutes.

"I think that might be the first time a team has ever adjusted to me being in [the game]."

Anthony said Dunleavy has been willing to make changes all season, depending on how well the Trail Blazers are playing.

"We weren't effective," Anthony said. "I didn't play a lot but when I was in there, I wasn't effective there in the second quarter. They've brought guys in here for a reason and we're here to complement our core guys when we are called upon.

"It's a coach's decision and we have to support Mike. He's trying to win the game. It's not like Mike is coaching to lose. He's coaching to win and he has to go with the guys who are the main guys. Me as a backup, I respect that and I understand that is how the business is . . . I think he did the right thing trying to get his core guys going."

While Dunleavy shortened his bench, Laker Coach Phil Jackson did not have a problem sticking with his, despite the absence of Brian Shaw, who was suspended for the game by the league.

Robert Horry played 30 key minutes and had nine points, seven rebounds and four assists. Rick Fox had only three points but played tough defense during his 13 minutes.

"Their role guys are really playing well for them," Wells said. "They are rolling. But it starts with their big guy [Shaquille O'Neal] and he's playing real dominant, that makes it easy for the guys around him to play their parts."

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