Oh, and the youngsters did it without D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle.
That's impressive since Russell ranks second on the team in scoring at 16.1 points per game and Randle isn't far off at 13.3. Both are averaging 26-plus minutes per game.
It's remarkable what they can do when they're allowed to play, right?
The bench made the difference in the 109-94 win. A rejuvenated Nick Young got the start and dropped 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the floor and 4-of-5 from deep. Lou Williams led all Lakers with 21, while Jordan Clarkson scored 18.
For context, the Lakers beat an Eastern Conference contender, or at least a team that fancies itself as such, without two of their best players. The credit mostly goes to one man, as ESPN's Marc Stein implied:
Such effectiveness from the bench might shock many but not head coach Luke Walton. In what has been a rather drab season for news with the Lakers being competitive once again, Walton has remained adamant in his rotational usage rates, stressing the complementary style.
ESPN.com's Baxter Holmes provided Walton's explanation for his rotation:
Walton noted that his bench unit has a wide variety of skill sets that complement each other well. Clarkson and Williams are potent scorers. Forward Brandon Ingram’s 7-foot-3 wingspan makes him a versatile defender, plus he can play point guard on offense. Nance and center Tarik Black can guard interior and perimeter players, as well as run the pick-and-roll with proficiency.
Given the results, who can argue? As the write-up notes, many have asked Walton why he doesn't just stick some of his bench players into the starting rotation. The win against Atlanta offered the definitive answer, and the commitment to the plan shouldn't anger fans who suffered through former coach Byron Scott and others refusing to let young guys hit the hardwood.
So when do the Lakers get two of their best players back?
It seems like a small matter of time before Randle's hip gets the go-ahead from team doctors. According to Mark Medina of the Orange County Register, Randle attempted to practice Saturday and had to fall into a limited role: "Randle completed a pregame workout on Sunday, but he did not finish all of Saturday's practice after tightening up. He then stayed on the court to complete non-contact drills."
This doesn't sound major, and the star forward could return to the court for Tuesday's meeting with the New Orleans Pelicans. But Walton won't push Randle, as a nagging issue in practice could turn into something much worse in a live-game scenario.
There's no need to risk Randle, who seems to have taken the proverbial next step in a big way under Walton, when the team already beats playoff hopefuls without him.
Ditto for Russell. Medina provided a look at the time frame for the point guard's return after he received a "platelet-rich plasma injection" in his left knee:
He will sit out for at least two more weeks, including when the Lakers (8-9) play host to the Atlanta Hawks (10-6) on Sunday at Staples Center. Russell plans to travel with the team this week to New Orleans (Tuesday), Chicago (Wednesday), Toronto (Friday) and Memphis (Saturday) to continue his rehab.
The Lakers' official Twitter account provided a statement from Russell:
That's a smart approach and exactly what fans should want. With the way Walton has rejuvenated unexpected guys such as Young—he's shooting 45.8 percent from the floor, the highest mark of his career—there isn't a major need to rush Russell and Randle back this early in the season.
These injury updates might have a different tune if the Lakers were in the midst of a playoff push. But for now, the team sits at .500 (9-9) and in eighth place in the deep Western Conference. With the team already proving it can play with top opponents such as the Warriors (remember the early November upset?), it is clear the Lakers can get healthy before attempting to climb higher in the postseason rankings.
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Crazy, isn't it? In a matter of months, the Lakers have gone from a rumor-riddled organization in need of a big trade to a cohesive team of young men who are playing for one another and doing it well.
It might take long into the winter for the Lakers to be fully healthy, but they will remain competitive regardless. This falls on Walton and the players—young and old—buying into the rotations. The process.
When Russell and Randle return, L.A. will continue to attempt a climb up the standings. It might while they recover too.
All stats and info via ESPN.com unless otherwise specified.
Follow Chris Roling (@Chris_Roling) on Twitter.