LOS ANGELES -- If the Lakers did this -- this being a 116-102 victory over the Denver Nuggets -- with Andrew Bynum still dripping in WD-40, then the Western Conference playoffs will have all the drama of a Tiger Woods-Charles Barkley match-play event.
The Nuggets represent the best of the rest, the current No. 2 seed and presumptive conference finals opponent if the chalk holds form, which only reinforces the notion that the gap between the Lakers and the Western field just grew by, oh, 7 feet.
It's not as if they needed Bynum in order to wrap up home-court advantage in the West; the Lakers went 25-7 while he was out with a torn knee ligament (injured in Memphis on Jan. 31). And they needed only one half of Bynum's half-game's worth of minutes to roll past Denver on Thursday night.
Bynum's main value is the X factor when it comes to assessing the Lakers' chances against whatever team comes out of the East. As much as Kobe Bryant claimed the Lakers "wanted to send a message" to the Nuggets and any other aspirants to the Western Conference throne, rest assured this was cc'ed to a few inboxes @ celtics.com, cavs.com and orlandomagic.com.
The Lakers once again have two 7-footers they can throw at teams; even if you can force Bynum to miss from close range, there's Pau Gasol to grab the rebound, and vice-versa. The versatile Lamar Odom is back to coming off the bench, adding immensely to the team's depth and giving coach Phil Jackson all kinds of configurations to play with. And they still have Kobe, who erased any remaining doubt about the game's outcome when he elevated around Chauncey Billups' raised arms and banked a 13-footer off the glass to put the Lakers up by 14 with five minutes remaining.