This was unusual because Phil Jackson will normally give the team the next day off when games are three days apart. But he decided to hold practice on Friday because he felt the Lakers were “on the brink.”
On the brink of what, Jackson didn’t say. But seeing how the Lakers have performed in both of those games now that Pau Gasol has returned, it’s quite obvious what Jackson was alluding to.
The Lakers seem to be on the brink of having one of the most successful seasons in their history despite losing three games during Gasol’s absence.
They are virtually indefensible. With two seven-footers and four players on the court who can post up, they will cause match up problems for every team they face.
And unlike most NBA teams, the parts are interchangeable.
They start out with Andrew Bynum at the five-spot, Gasol at the four, Ron Artest at the three, Kobe Bryant at the two, and Derek Fisher running the point. Lamar Odom, their 6-11 sixth man, can come off the bench for Gasol.
But Gasol can move to Bynum’s spot and Odom then goes into Gasol’s spot. Or, if Jackson prefers, he can have Odom come in for Artest and go extremely big.
The really cool thing about all three big men is their athleticism and versatility. Odom has even been known to play the two-spot and bring the ball up.
All three can hit medium range jumpers, and Odom is tied for second on the team with 10 three-point buckets.
Their best man-up defensive player, Ron Artest, is also the leader in three-point makes with 21.
Going deeper into the bench, Jordan Farmar usually comes in for Derek Fisher and Shannon Brown for Kobe Bryant.
When those two are on the court along with Ron Artest, the team speeds up from a half-court game to more of an explosive Phoenix-style fast break game.
Just as he does with Odom, Jackson can interchange Farmar and Brown. Sometimes Brown will be on the court with Bryant, along with Artest, Odom and Gasol or Bynum.
The last two games have shown what a nightmare this is for opposing coaches. The only time there is any relief at all is in the fourth quarter when Jackson removes all of his starters along with Odom and puts in the rest of the bench.
That remains the one problem that Jackson and the rest of the staff must solve. If the Lakers are on the brink, the bench (or at least the remainder of the bench beyond Odom, Brown and Farmar) is on the blink.
Sasha Vujacic, Adam Morrison, D.J. Mbenga, and to some extent Josh Powell have not shown any consistency so far this season. Powell has been the most consistent of those four, averaging 13.5 minutes and 5.3 points per game.
Morrison and Mbenga are averaging 2.3 points while Vujacic is low man with just 2.0 points per game.
Even the injured Luke Walton, who is out for the next six weeks with a pinched nerve in his back, hasn’t done much better, averaging only 3.7 points in ten minutes.
Nevertheless, this may suit Jackson, who normally likes to go with an eight-man rotation in the playoffs. Walton, if he is healthy, will be the ninth man, and Mbenga will come in only if one of the big men incurs an injury.
So, now that Gasol has returned, Jackson and the Lakers have a lot to be thankful for.
First of all, they can be thankful that they don’t have a game on Thanksgiving. Instead, the Lakers can feast on the New York Knicks tomorrow night at Staples Center.
The Warriors and Nets? Hmm, that’s even more to be thankful for. Here’s looking at a 13-3 start!