I don’t like scary movies.
When I saw The Ring for the first time, I tensed up like the Cardinals in the last minute of the Super Bowl. I remember having these terrifying dreams about hideous women crawling through my television set and into my living-room. Now that I think about it, it’s exactly like watching an episode of Sex and the City. Of course, those nightmares were nothing compared to what’s transpired for Andrew Bynum against the Memphis Grizzlies in the past year.
First, this happened, and we all freaked out like an episode of Lost.
Then, (gulp) a year ago today, this happened, and we all went to Church the next Sunday to say thanks.
Last night, this happened, and we’re all wondering if we’re cursed.
Somehow, the Grizz have been on the vanguard of the Lakers’ championship hopes of late. No matter what angle you look at it from, it’s eerily similar to the last time.
In addition to that, Andrew Bynum was playing his best basketball leading up to both injuries. While I watched in horror as Kobe toppled into Bynum’s knee, an image of Paul Pierce flashing two fingers ran a sprint across my brain. That mili-second ruined my night. If the worst-case scenario becomes the only scenario, did the Lakers’ Championship hopes crumble in the first quarter tonight? Let’s explore.
Best Case: Bynum misses 2 weeks.
At 2-0, the Lakers are off to a good start on their 6-game trip. Without Andrew Bynum, the rest of the voyage looks a little bit different. Here are the major areas we’re going to feel it:
1. Slowing down the Knicks.
The Knicks have won three straight (Houston, Atlanta, Indiana) and scored just under 113 points per game in the process. Maybe more importantly, they’ve averaged 50 points in the paint during that stretch.
During the last three for the Lakers, they’ve given up an average of 47 points in the paint. In their last meeting at Staples in December, Andrew Bynum did a solid job controlling the lane, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking 4 shots. Without his size and rapidly developing toughness inside, the Lakers will struggle to stop the up-tempo Knicks from getting easy looks at the basket.
2. Contesting Lebron James.
The Lakers played their best defensive half of the season in their first meeting with the Cavs. Lebron James had only six points in the paint and missed 16 of the 25 shots he took. Drew did an excellent job of contesting him at the rim; forcing him to change his shot and sending him to the free throw line instead of letting him get an easy layup or dunk. Without him in there, Bron Bron will have a much easier time getting clean looks at the basket. Pair that with the recent return of 7’3” Z, and it will take an unbelievable effort from Pau and Lamar to clog up the lane.
3. Neutralizing the Celtics Inside.
We all know the Celtics metaphorically punched the Lakers in the mouth during last seasons’ NBA Finals. Most of that thrashing came in the paint, where the Lakers sorely missed the size and strength of Andrew Bynum. Take a look at what happened in L.A. during their win over the Celtics in December.
On Christmas, the Lakers were able to do something they couldn’t in last years’ NBA Finals: Compete with the Celtics down low. The difference? Andrew Bynum’s presence. To this point, Pau hasn’t demonstrated any added measure of toughness and the Lakers surely haven’t shown a new commitment to that side of the floor. With Andrew likely sidelined next week, we may be in store for a lot of what we saw last season.
Worst Case: Bynum misses the season.
I’m optimistic that the rest of this column won’t matter. However, in the unlikely scenario that Bynum were to miss the rest of the season, here’s how it could play out for the Lakers.
Andrew Bynum has been developing into a nice offensive weapon. Leading up to the game against Memphis, he had scored in double figures in 12 straight contests, shooting a clean 61% (98/160) from the floor and averaging 20.8 points per game. He’s also responded to the rebounding directive from Phil Jackson. In his last 5 full games, he’s pulled down no less than 11 boards, and topped 14 rebounds in 4 of those 5 contests. Even more impressive, over half of those boards were grabbed on the offensive glass.
While all of those things definitely paint a nice forecast for the future, those are areas where the Lakers can excel without Bynum. This team has no shortage of offensive firepower (I.e. Kobe Bryant). Even without big Drew for much of last season, the Lakers still managed to hold their own on the glass, finishing in the top 8 of every rebounding category.
So, the question has to be asked. What does Andrew Bynum provide that the Lakers can’t replicate from another source?
Like I wrote last week, tightening things up on the defensive end of the floor is the key to the season. While the Lakers are fifth in the league in defensive efficiency (courtesy of Ben Q Rock), that’s just where they were last season, and we all know how that ended. The number of easy buckets and wide open three’s they give up is somewhat alarming.
The lone bright spot of the Lakers interior defense has been Andrew Bynum. He racked up 31 blocks during the month of January, including a 6 block performance against the Bobcats. Even when he’s not playing volleyball, he’s altering shots, which is usually just as effective. Expecting any combination of Chris Mihm, Lamar Odom and Josh Powell to fill that defensive void for the Lakers is most likely asking too much.
Having said all of that, let’s get back to my original question.
If the worst-case scenario becomes the only scenario, did the Lakers’ Championship hopes crumble in the first quarter tonight?
I say NO.
Let’s just hope we don’t have to find out.
Jason Riley is a columnist for the Lakers Nation. In addition to this column, he writes on an array of topics that you can check out by visiting J-Ri.com. You can email him by clicking here, or look him up on Facebook.