Lakers bench steps up in win

"I'm not making him solely a bench player," Jackson said.

"I think that he's got the capabilities to infuse our team with the kind of energy that we need, bring a certain tenacity defensively, run the court really hard and do things that second group does really well, which is speed the game up."

The Lakers' second group, jolted when Maurice Evans and Brian Cook were traded to Orlando for Ariza last month, has regained its energy and is again a vital force. The bench contributed 37 points Thursday, with Turiaf, Vladimir Radmanovic and Sasha Vujacic sharing the lead with eight points each.

None might have been more important than Jordan Farmar's fall-back, nothing-but-net three-point shot with just under six minutes to play in the fourth quarter, which extended the Lakers' lead to 90-82.

Unless it was the dunk by Turiaf, off a no-look pass from Bryant that put the Lakers ahead, 97-86, with 4:25 to play.

The reserves' efforts allowed Jackson to stay with his plan to keep the starters' minutes down.

"It's conscious as long as the bench produces, then you're forced to use your starters longer minutes, which puts them in jeopardy at some point," Jackson said of his strategy.

Jackson, having signed a contract extension this week that goes through next season and has an option for 2009-10, seems happy with his situation and his team's. Asked before the game to share his thoughts about that option clause, he joked, "There's always an option to quit."

In reality, he said, his decision would depend on "how we're doing and if we can move this club forward quickly enough."

The Lakers took a decided step forward on Thursday. Not a huge step, but one significant for its persistence and for its potential as the start of something bigger.

Helene Elliott can be reached at helene.elliott@latimes.com.