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Bench players asked for more help

LOS ANGELES, June 6 (UPI) -- The Los Angeles Lakers, even though they own a 1-0 lead in the NBA Finals, spent Thursday trying to figure out how to give their superstar some help.

Shaquille O'Neal keyed the Lakers' quick start in Game 1, one that led to a 23-point lead, and he was virtually a one-man offense down the stretch as Los Angeles held on for a 99-94 victory.

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The Lakers, however, were not alone in needing bench help. New Jersey got 19 points in 75 bench minutes and the Lakers received 10 in 41.

"Last night was one of those nights where they didn't give us a whole lot," admitted New Jersey coach Byron Scott.

The Lakers' Phil Jackson took it a step further, addressing the issue in practice Thursday in advance of Friday night's second game in Los Angeles.

"We're going to have to have a lot of help all the way through," he said. "Today was specifically a practice that we tried to work with our second unit and our bench group to come out and give us some punch."

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"We watched film and we realized that we're not giving enough spark," Lakers reserve forward Devean George said.

Before the Finals reach its finale, the benches of both teams are expected to play a role in determining the outcome.

Entering the series, the Nets seemed to have the edge, one of the few they enjoyed over the Lakers. Scott used 10 players regularly during the season and has not shortened his rotation in the playoffs.

Among them, guard Lucious Harris, rookie swingman Richard Jefferson and forward Aaron Williams all have shown the ability to score, averaging at least seven points per contest while occasionally having a breakout game that has given the offense a lift.

"Our bench is very important to us," Scott said. "They've been a very important part of our success all season long. So if our guys are coming off the bench and providing points and rebounds and steals and doing the things that they've done 75 to 80 percent of the time, then we'll be successful."

Jackson has shortened his rotation. After a home loss to San Antonio in Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals, he replaced starting forward Samaki Walker with Robert Horry, who had come off the bench for most of the season and provided timely offense. But that has weakened the reserve corps, and it is starting to show.

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"We're down to the basic crew that's been playing the most minutes for this championship team the last two years and hopefully can win a third championship," Jackson said. "That group is now starting. So there's a drop-off when we go to our bench and I think that's hurt us."

The Nets are at their best when they run. By using five reserves, they can keep their starters fresh and maintain a high energy level that the older Lakers may have trouble matching with their shorter bench.

By the time Scott went to his bench in Game 1, however, his team already was trailing by 15 points. Even with O'Neal off the court and both teams using primarily reserves, the deficit grew.

Harris thought he and the rest of the reserves were a bit anxious. A shooter who can heat up quickly, he was averaging 9.1 points per game during the playoffs but made just one of five shots in 25 minutes, missing both of his three-pointers.

"We tried to hit the home run early and took a lot of threes trying to get the lead down," he said.

"There's always a sense of urgency, because whenever you come in the game and the game is tied or you're up two or down two, you have to maintain that type of intensity," Jefferson said. "In Game One, we had to try and raise it a little bit."

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In the playoffs, New Jersey's bench is averaging nearly 30 points per game while Los Angeles is getting less than 15. If the Nets want to be competitive in this series, their reserves are going to have to do more than defend and rebound. They are going to have to score. Even the Lakers know that.

"That's something they have to do just to stay in the game," Walker said. "Their bench has to play well in order for them to be in the game."

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