HANG TIME WEST — Sunday night, it was five Lakers reserves logging at least 16 minutes, three of them starting the fourth quarter and another, Jordan Hill, playing the last 9:42 of a close win over the Hawks.
That came about after Wesley Johnson, Jodie Meeks and Hill kept L.A. in the game with prominent roles in the final period of a six-point loss to the Spurs, and after almost every sub got some run in the blowout defeat at the hands of the Warriors.
And that came after the opening-night statement during the victory over the Clippers. All of which came after everything.
Johnson is with his third team in as many seasons. Jordan Farmar played 39 NBA games the previous two seasons and spent 2012-13 in Turkey. Hill had 68 appearances the same two years and is coming off a torn hip muscle that cost him 49 games. Chris Kaman is on his fourth team in four years. Jodie Meeks is the shooting specialist who shot 38.7 percent last season. Xavier Henry was a training-camp invitee, Nick Young a guy trying to show he has more than swag.
This is a second unit inspired to prove a lot of people wrong, and this is a good start. What the Lakers exactly have won’t be known for a while, until Kobe Bryant returns from the torn Achilles’ tendon and the rotation settles, but even that blow to the depth does not change the encouraging impact from the first week. It also adds to the credibility to the preseason claim from coach Mike D’Antoni that the bench would be improved.
D’Antoni wasn’t exactly far out on the shaky branch when he said it — it would be difficult for the Lakers’ reserves to not be better than 2012-13. But point taken. Given the chance to immediately showcase the gains, D’Antoni’s all-reserve lineup — Meeks, Farmar, Henry, Johnson, Hill — played the entire fourth quarter of opening night, delivering a 41-24 scoring advantage those 12 minutes and a 116-103 victory over the Clippers. In all, 76 of the 116 points came from the bench, including each of the final 48.
“Hungry,” Farmar said of the personality of the subs. “I think passionate and together. We really believe in each other and we really lift each other up. We’ve got each others back. Move the ball, let everybody do what they do well. It’s working so far. Hopefully we can keep this energy up and stick to it.”
This group had been discarded and disregarded, overlooked and underappreciated. They had been playing on different continents and just trying to stay on the NBA map.
“We hear things,” said Johnson, the No. 4 pick by the Timberwolves in the 2010 draft who spent two seasons there and one in Phoenix before signing with the Lakers in July. “People are going to talk. They’re going to say whatever they want. But we’re not worried about it too much. We just have to continue to do what we do, be productive and show what we have.
“It fuels us. But we figured it’s going to be like that because the man is injured and the stuff that they went through last year is going to reflect on this year. They’re going to say stuff about us. Other than that, we’re just going to continue to play ball. We’re not really going to worry about it.”
The Lakers have started Pau Gasol, Shawne Williams and Steve Blake in each of the first four games, and Steve Nash in three of the four while holding him out of the other for rest. When Nash sat, Meeks started. Young was in the opening lineup the first three games before being replaced by Henry on Sunday against the Hawks, and Young responded with 13 points in 21 minutes.