As the Lakers finally get their groove back after a grueling 7-game road trip, Laker fans received a pleasant surprise to begin the Nuggets game. Andrew Bynum, who has been out with a torn MCL since January 31st, was back in the starting line-up along with Kobe, Fisher, Ariza, and Gasol. It was somewhat shocking to see him dressed down, ready to play.
Phil Jackson and others have been highly publicizing his recovery, but I definitely didn’t anticipate a return prior to the playoffs!
Before game-time, Phil relayed to Bynum to take it easy, and “let the game come to him”. In 21 minutes of play, Bynum racked up 16 points and 7 boards, solid statistics for a center that was attempting to be ginger with a recovering injury all game. But Bynum wasn’t the only Laker cleaning up the glass. Pau Gasol conjured 19 rebounds against Denver, which brought him a new career-high.
Andrew’s arrival to the starting line once more bumped Lamar Odom, who has been a constant starter since Bynum’s injury, back down to second unit. The threat to his playing time was obviously taken to heart, because he came off the bench with the intensity of a player who wanted his starting slot back. As soon as he came in for Bynum in the first quarter, he hit a 3 pointer, blocked a shot, and was penetrating enough to draw contact and go to the line for some easy points. Definitely the type of pick-me-up Odom’s going to need to contribute early in games if Bynum still isn’t 100% by post-season.
Another welcome surprise was the addition of Shannon Brown much earlier in the game than we’re usually used to. Derek Fisher was caught with two fouls early in the first and was forced to the bench, when Shannon Brown took his place on the floor. Shannon’s performance in recent games has been a welcome spurt of energy for the Lakers’ bench. His aggressive nature was a useful trait against Denver whose team is chock full of speedy, agile, players. Within the first couple minutes of play, Brown had already drawn a foul at the 3 point line (and sank 2), as well as, gained an assist from a brilliant inside pass to Gasol.
Finally! Some consistency! Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton have also stepped their game up, although Luke’s 3 assists were nothing compared to his 9 against the Sacramento Kings last game, his rebounds/game has gradually increased since the Lakers beat the Clippers at home on April 5th. Sasha had 9 points for the game, 3 shy from what he scored against the Kings, but still solid especially considering how he was shooting on the road. Sasha had 3 steals and Luke had 2, which provided a face-lift to our slacking defense as of late.
In other Lakers’ news, Phil Jackson will not be traveling with the team to their next game against Portland. He is currently suffering from plantar fasciitis, and will be treated for pain and inflammation in his legs. Kurt Rambis will serve as head coach in his place. Although Phil doesn’t plan to miss any more games, this particular one will be rough without him.
The Blazers have beat the Lakers the past 7 games at the Rose Garden, and are prone to losing double digit leads in that particular vicinity. The match-up against the Blazers will also send Kobe past Charles Barkley on the all-time scoring list (unless he doesn’t score at all, he’s only one point behind him). Let’s hope Kurt can keep our boys motivated without the Zen-Master.