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Lakers' reserves are only contributing to losses

L.A. isn't getting much from its bench, which is evident more than ever in Game 4 defeat against Phoenix.

May 25, 2010|Bill Plaschke

From Phoenix

It was playoff basketball reduced to maddening math.

The Phoenix Suns stormed through Tuesday's Game 4 of the Western Conference finals with 10 players.

The Lakers staggered around with six.

The Suns were like a joyful college team, everyone playing, everyone scoring, the sidelines dancing.

The Lakers were like a somber high school team with one star and five kids from shop class.

"They had 10 guys involved out there, we had about half that," said the Lakers' Lamar Odom, shaking his head. "They had help from all over the place, and we didn't."

Do the numbers. Tie the series. The Suns rolled the Lakers, 115-106, to even the shindig at two games apiece and send this flying circus back to Staples Center for a pivotal Game 5 on Thursday.

It's not trigonometry. If the Lakers don't equal the Suns in bodies, they will soon be minus a second consecutive championship.

"We've got to cut that stuff out," said Kobe Bryant.

Bryant scored a brilliant 38 points before eventually losing his lift to exhaustion. He was exhausted because he had to play nearly 45 minutes because he just didn't have any help from his cheerleaders.

The Suns' bench outscored the Lakers' bench, 54-20. The Suns' bench outrebounded the Lakers' bench, 23-11. The Suns' bench made nine three-point shots, the Lakers' bench made two.

"These guys are the defending champions, they are not going to give you anything, you've got to take it," said Suns sub Jared Dudley. "Tonight we took it."

Took it when the Lakers weren't looking, took it with unsuspecting guys sitting around in oversized sweats and blank stares, took it so stunningly that US Airways Center rocked in surprise.

It was about Channing Frye breaking an 0-for-18 streak by throwing down threes and pumping up fists. It was about Dudley bouncing upcourt and screaming downcourt. It was about Goran Dragic spinning through a defense filled with stationary starters. It was about Leandro Barbosa filling the gym with the trademark "beep-beep" that is played on the loudspeaker with each of his roadrunner scoring sprints.

And then there was Louis Amundson. Who is Louis Amundson? I think he's that guy with the blond hair bunched into a ponytail. Whoever he is, after the game he showed himself to be the master of understatement.

"We had a lot of energy, we went on a little run," he said after outrebounding the Lakers, 6-5, by himself in the fourth quarter.

A lot of energy? A little run? In the second quarter, the Suns' bench scored 30 points in giving them a nine-point halftime lead. In the fourth quarter, the Suns' bench scored 18 points in giving them the victory.

The Suns' bench was so powerful, it even outplayed the Lakers' starters throughout much of that fourth quarter, Suns Coach Alvin Gentry refusing to sub for the subs, rubbing it in the Lakers' bloodied nose.

The Lakers' bench was so invisible, only Odom made more than one basket or had more than one rebound in the game.

Talk about a depth charge.

"It's hard to win like this," said Odom. "Everybody who played for them contributed. Everyone who played for us didn't."

Remember The Bench Mob? The group that, two years ago, helped inspire the team to the NBA Finals? This is now the Bench Robbed, the reserves proving themselves capable of being pilfered and mugged while the starters stick their heads under towels and roll their eyes.

Sasha Vujacic has disappeared beneath a sprained ankle, while Luke Walton and Jordan Farmar have seemed to finally wear out their welcome. On this bench, the only scoring impact comes from Odom, and you know how unpredictable he can be. The only energy impact comes from Shannon Brown and, well, you can dunk only so many times.

Odom had a double-double on Tuesday, but took some real dumb shots and was often beaten defensively. Brown and Farmar, meanwhile, combined to go two for 12, while Walton was on the court for fewer than three minutes.

The Lakers showed last year that you can win a title without a deep bench. But Bryant and Derek Fisher are now running with more miles, and Andrew Bynum is running with one leg, and more is needed.

"We have to take things away from people, and we're not doing that," Odom said.

Can the Suns now take this series? I still say no. The Suns still have to win one game at Staples Center, where this current Lakers core group has been almost unbeatable over the last three postseasons, going 27-3 including a current roll of 10 consecutive victories.

But let Game 4 serve a Lakers warning as certain as it is curious.

They can't soar without those who sit.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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