…He’s been here for years. Andrew Bynum, that is. Only it feels like he’s gone all the time. In his first game back since recovering and then rehabilitating from arthroscopic knee surgery, Bynum watched from the sidelines, and at the 6:09 mark in the first quarter, he entered the game for the first time this season, marking the moment with a swat of Hilton Armstrong’s shot attempt. In that instance, it was clear exactly what the Lakers have been missing without Bynum in the last few weeks of inconsistent, uninspired play – his mere presence inside to defend, to protect.
In 17:29 minutes of play, Bynum managed seven points on 1-5 from the field and 5-8 from the free throw line, not to mention four rebounds, two blocks and one assist in the fourth quarter to a cutting Shannon Brown. He looked spry on the floor, running back and forth, altering shots, and the best sign of all, he didn’t appear to be in any pain after. Getting his timing right will take some time (he attempted but missed both lobs offered to him tonight), and certainly there are defensive nuances and tasks (such as the screen and roll, as Phil Jackson mentioned in his post-game interview) that need refreshing, but the only way to accomplish any of it is by playing.
Happiest for Bynum’s return was Pau Gasol, who played just over 30 minutes tonight, a major reduction from his typical 40+ minute games this season. Getting those 18 minutes of rest throughout the game did the Lakers forward much good. He had 16 points on 6-11, grabbed nine rebounds, led the team with seven assists, and added a steal to pad the stats further. Maybe it was a mental or psychological boost for Gasol having Bynum back, and knowing that he could go back to his natural forward position, defending and scoring against other forwards. Whatever it was, it sure energized our local Spaniard. The Lakers fed Gasol often, and every pass inside was sure to lead to something good, and tonight, it led to several good things.
Gasol’s touches led to layups for a recently struggling Ron Artest, who had 10 points on 4-8 tonight. Gasol fed Lamar Odom often and easily, a few which led to three-point plays. Reserves Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown, both exceptionally proficient at moving without the ball, were rewarded for their mobility with cutting lanes and a 7-footer who loves to pass the ball. What Bynum provides for the Lakers isn’t just what he can add to the box score. It’s how he affects the rest of his teammates, like Gasol; their roles and all the various opportunities on both ends of the floor.
Lamar Odom, save for a handful of games, is easily the best and most consistent player on this Lakers team thus far this season, and tonight he continued to show off. In the fourth quarter, he deflected the ball, stole it, sprinted to the other side, dunked and 1. Another three-point play which gave the Lakers a 97-78 lead. Odom had 18 points on 6-8, 10 rebounds, two assists, a block and a game-leading +23 for the game. Odom has been playing consistently hard this season, though his nonchalant demeanor can sometimes be misleading. When Bynum returns to the starting line-up, and Odom returns to the bench, there’s no telling the damage the second unit is capable of.
Kobe Bryant, certainly high on meeting with President Obama yesterday, took to the floor like he was 22 years old again, reeling off 16 of his 24 points in the second half, dunking off a lob from Derek Fisher, and hitting 4-6 from behind the arc. He also had five rebounds and handed out four assists.
The Washington Wizards, at 6-17, weren’t the most formidable of opponents, but regardless, the Lakers played today unlike they’ve played in quite awhile – the right way. They moved the ball, handing out 23 assists on 34 made field goals. They worked the defensive glass (33 boards) to keep the Wizards to one and done possessions. The point distribution was excellent; with the bench contributing 29 points (Shannon Brown had 16 points). But most noticeable of all were the attitude and focus of the team.
Stu Lantz stated before the game that Andrew Bynum should be looked at as a helper, not a savior, especially this early in his return. But his mere presence brings much relief, to say the least, to his teammates. Tomorrow provides the second of a back-to-back against a team who has already beaten the Lakers at Staples. In that game, Indiana center Roy Hibbert was too much for Gasol to handle. It will be another of many tests for Bynum, but if today is any indication, he will be ready.
Pre-game Thoughts: Andrew Bynum…it’s been too long.
Half-time Thoughts: 57-46 – Pau Gasol has 10 points (4-4 from the field) and five assists, an efficient first half for someone who’s been sluggish of late. Was Andrew Bynum’s presence all it took to get Gasol back? Hopefully the rest of the game is just as good.
Most Thoughtless Player(s) of the Game: The Laker bench (with Bynum’s help) managed 29 points, with Shannon Brown leading the way with 16, but there is still some things left to be desired. Matt Barnes went 1-5; Steve Blake, 0-3, Luke Walton, 0-1. The reserves need to get their collective, offensive mojo back to what it was earlier this season.
Most Thought-filled Player(s) of the Game: Lamar Odom, as he does in every game, did it all tonight. He scored (18 points on 6-8), played defense (eight defensive boards, one steal, one block), and, except for a couple of games, has yet to disappoint this season.