If the game of professional basketball was played without the service of reserves, then the Los Angeles Lakers would be more dominant than they have been in the past three games.
Take away Lamar Odom and the Lakeshow's bench is the worst among all other contending teams in the league, and it's not like they are even close in that respect.
Call it the ultimate anomaly, because the Lakers may have the best starting five in all of basketball, yet they tend to become spectators as they watch the bench waste the benefits of their supreme performances.
For the third consecutive game Kobe Bryant and company have watched the reserves lose leads of 20-plus points and allow teams to creep back in and make the final score somewhat respectable.
Take last night, for instance. The Lakers totally dominated the smaller New York Knicks, grabbing an astounding 60 rebounds to the Knicks' 36, and taking a 21-point lead into the locker room at the intermission.
For all practical purposes the game should have been over as the lead ballooned to 25 points late in the third quarter and coach Phil Jackson finally called the dogs off and inserted the reserves into the game.
The Knicks immediately took advantage and were able to trim the lead to the final 10-point margin. The only portion of the game that the Lakers were outscored was the time that the reserves were on the court.
Odom was supposed to bring the punch that the bench had been missing in the absence of Pau Gasol, and he does. But he is basically a one-man show in desperate need of a compadre on the floor.
For those of you who feel I am being too studious and rigid in my analysis of Los Angeles, consider that the teams that the Lakers have defeated are not exactly the cream of the NBA's crop.
So what happens when the Lakers are involved in a tight game and need to call on their reserves to maintain a close lead, or even worse, change the flow of momentum?
If the past three games are any indication, Jackson would be better off letting his starters play through fatigue rather than trusting the team's fortunes to his unflattering group of reserves.
It was previously understood that the Lakers' biggest weakness was their propensity to allow perimeter penetration from opposing guards. While that is still a concern, it's diminished with the return of Gasol.
If the Lakers are beaten on the perimeter, the next line of defense is the seven-foot combination of Gasol and Andrew Bynum, which is the perfect deterrence for perimeter penetration.
Ron Artest is a much better defender than the departed Trevor Ariza and he recognizes, unlike Ariza, the importance of staying with his man when the urge to rotate presents itself.
This cuts down on wide-open looks from the perimeter and, in essence, leaves a penetrating guard with nowhere to go once he is in the lane.
So the onus once again falls on the bench, and to borrow a quote, they are "The Weakest Link."
Coach Jackson seems to think so, and verbalized his concerns when he said that the 10-point victory left him feeling depressed because his team was unable to break the Knicks' spirit.
Being the master tactician that he is, how long will it be before he decides to trust the conditioning and will of his starters before playing Russian roulette with his reserves in a game that really matters?
If the past three games are any revelation, that time may be approaching faster than anyone could have ever imagined.