Thursday , Jun , 10 , 2004 C.Y. Ellis

Rush and Walton are ready when their number is called

By Warren Blatt, Sports Network NBA Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) – Los Angeles Lakers’ reserves Kareem
Rush and Luke Walton have both proven that they can be productive players in
the playoffs when given the chance to play.

The 23-year-old Rush is in his second season in the league, while Walton is a
rookie. With players like Shaquille O’Neal, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and Gary
Payton on LA’s roster, there is not a lot of minutes to go around for the
players who are deeper on the Lakers’ bench. When the opportunity comes, Rush
and Walton make the most of their time on the court.

The Lakers are battling the Detroit Pistons in the best-of-seven NBA Finals.
The teams split Games 1 and 2 at the Staples Center, and the series seems to
be shaping up into an exciting one. Both Larry Brown, Detroit’s head coach,
and the Lakers’ general Phil Jackson are using all of their knowledge and
coaching skills to give their team an advantage. Utilizing the bench and
getting the most of the players who don’t play as much as the starters could
mean the difference between winning the championship and falling short.

In the postseason, Rush has played an average of 14.3 minutes in LA’s first 19
playoff games. He has averaged just 3.6 points, but has shot an impressive
44.7 percent from beyond the arc.

Rush’s moment to shine came in Game 6 of the Western Conference finals against
Minnesota. The Missouri product was an unbelievable 6-of-7 from three-point
range and finished with a playoff career-high 18 points in 23 minutes of
action, as the Lakers eliminated the top-seeded Timberwolves and earned their
fourth trip to the NBA Finals in the last five years.

“I just wanted to go out there play my game and be aggressive and when the
shots are there, take them,” said Rush after his performance against
Minnesota. “Tonight they were falling for me.”

The 24-year-old Walton has appeared in 14 of the Lakers’ first 19 postseason
contests. He has averaged just six minutes of playing time and has netted 1.9
points per game.

After watching the Lakers lose the opener to Detroit, 87-75, from the bench,
Walton played 27 minutes in Game 2, as the Lakers defeated the Pistons, 99-91,
in overtime to even the series at a game apiece. Walton was 3-of-3 from the
field and finished with seven points and a team-high eight assists.

Walton was asked if he felt nervous when taking the court for the first time
in the NBA Finals in Game 2. “Yeah, of course.,” Walton said after LA’s win.
“I love stuff like this. I’ve always loved big games, and I was just hoping
that I would get my chance and coach (Jackson) gave me a chance tonight.”

The All-Star center O’Neal is a big supporter of Walton, and he appreciated
the rookie’s performance against the Pistons in Game 2.

“He’s a great guy, rookie,” said O’Neal. “It amazes me how he can give me the
ball and guys that have been playing with me four, five, six years can’t give
me the ball.”

With Malone’s status uncertain because of an injured right knee that he
suffered in Game 2 against Detroit, Walton could continue to play critical
minutes in the series. He proved that he is capable of contributing in a
positive way and deserves the chance to try and continue to do so.

Jackson decided to give Walton the chance to play in the finals, and the
rookies performance has made him look pretty darn smart.

“Maybe sanity is the best excuse,” Jackson said after Game 2 about his
decision to play Walton. “I just needed somebody in there that could move the
ball and had the ability to create things off the dribble, and Luke is a kid,
a rookie, of course you always worry about them getting calls offensively,
having things happen right for them. And then the other end of the floor that
they don’t get overmatched defensively. But he held his own and actually was
the player of the game, really, for us tonight (Game 2).

Rush averaged just 2.5 points in 17 minutes of action per game in the first
two contests against Detroit in the finals. However, Jackson knows if he needs
Rush to step up he can count on the second-year guard to produce.

Walton and Rush understand that they will only win a ring if O’Neal and Bryant
are carrying the Lakers to the Promised Land. However, when their number is
called they have shown that they are not afraid to shine on the big stage.