LOS ANGELES – Injuries have hit the Los Angeles Lakers ahead of their five-game road trip, with the pinch being felt in the backcourt as well as the frontcourt. Anthony Davis missing four games has been unfortunate, but Dwight Howard has done well with extended minutes to help shoulder the loud.
However, on Wednesday against the Orlando Magic, the Lakers had to face Markelle Fultz and company without Rajon Rondo or Alex Caruso in the backcourt. Rondo is still nursing a finger fracture, while Caruso was only on the floor for four minutes before going down with what could be a concussion.
With two of the team's key contributors out of commission and both Danny Green and Avery Bradley struggling on Wednesday, head coach Frank Vogel had to turn to Quinn Cook and Troy Daniels. Both players have been itching for opportunities to show what they can do for the Lakers, and they didn't disappoint against the Magic by combining for 39 points.
After the game, Daniels talked about getting more minutes and being able to produce during that time on the floor.
“The more you play, the more rhythm you get,” Daniels said. “Real game action is the best teacher. You can't really simulate that in practice. Actually getting out there and getting some real minutes definitely helped the rhythm and confidence for me and Quinn. Next man up. Just have to be ready to play.”
Daniels finished with 17 points in 21 minutes off the bench against Orlando. He was extremely efficient, going 6-for-9 from the floor and 5-for-6 from 3-point range. The 28-year-old talked about the key to being ready in the bench role he's currently playing with the Lakers.
“I think it's more mindset than anything,” Daniels said of being ready off the bench. “You can really be defeated before you even get in the game just thinking bad thoughts. I try to get my mind right before I get in the game. Just cheer my teammates on and just go out there and do what I do.”
The Lakers newcomer admitted a performance like he and Cook had only helps their confidence moving forward. The two sharpshooters may get limited minutes on this title-contending team, but as Daniels points out, it's their job to be ready when their number is called this season.
“It's just a confidence booster,” Daniels said of a performance like this. “We are in and out of the rotation, but our job is to stay ready no matter what. I know it's kind of the right thing to say, but that's just our job is to be ready and go out there and do what we're supposed to do and help the team win. We came up short tonight, but we'll learn from it.”
With the Lakers' starters struggling on Wednesday, the bench stepped up and helped erase a 21-point deficit. LeBron James took notice of the effort of his teammates off the bench, who scored a combined 68 points.
“Our bench is the reason why there was a game in the end,” LeBron said. “They just came in and produced everything that we needed.”
Although the Lakers lost to the Magic, the play of Daniels and Cook was a promising sign for this championship-caliber team heading into the second half of the season. There have been some lingering concerns about the bench and whether or not the team should pursue an upgrade in the backcourt like Darren Collison or possibly look into making a deal before the NBA trade deadline.
This performance may have Rob Pelinka a bit more confident in his current group rather than looking to make a move through a trade or a free-agent signing like Collison. The upcoming five-game road trip with matchups against teams like the Houston Rockets, Boston Celtics, and Philadelphia 76ers will be telling with the trade deadline only a few weeks away on Feb. 6.