Human sacrifice, cats and dogs living together, and the Lakers bench dominating the Clippers starters in the season opener. The NBA is back, and it is weird.
It was supposed to be a nationally televised baton-passing, the ascendant Clippers announcing themselves as title contenders and taking Los Angeles from the aged, undermanned Lakers. That still seems likely, but for one night at least it was the Laker reserves in the spotlight. In a bizarre fourth quarter where Pau Gasol and Steve Nash didn't play, Blake Griffin and J.J. Redick were held scoreless and Chris Paul didn't record a single assist, the Lakers outscored the Clips 41-24 to take opening night.
"What's the worst that can happen?" asked Jodie Meeks. "We lose, and people say we're no good?" Well, yes, that's exactly what could have—should have—happened to a Laker bench stocked with castoffs and never-weres, forced into meaningful minutes on a team missing Kobe Bryant and hampered by the luxury tax.
Instead, there was Meeks, pouring in nine of his 13 points in the fourth quarter. Jordan Farmar, who spent last year in Turkey before being given a second go-round in L.A., added 16. Xavier Henry, with a career-high 22 points, set the tone with a one-handed slam before getting in Chris Paul's face:
The fivesome of Meeks-Farmar-Henry-Wesley Johnson-Jordan Hill started the fourth, and forced Mike D'Antoni to keep them in for the entire quarter. All in all, the bench's 78 points were the most for the Lakers in 25 years.
This isn't a recipe for success. Counting on Xavier Henry, who averaged 12.5 mpg in New Orleans last season, isn't sustainable. The Lakers know this, but if they're to have anything resembling success, flexibility is going to have to be part of the gameplan. Each night will require a different hero. With Dwight Howard gone, they're no longer pinned down by specific expectations or demands, and maybe even allowed to have a little fun. "That locker room is a lot different," D'Antoni said. After last season, different can only be good.