Lakers’ key: Bynum’s knee . . .and heart
Lakers’ fans by now have grown accustomed to the following four words:
Andrew Bynum is injured.
I mean, come on, when was the last time he wasn’t? This guy has spent more time in front of doctors than the patients on Gray’s Anatomy. Most of his NBA career has found him either sitting, rehabilitating or limping around various courts across America.
So now we finally come to the crucial part of this long, winding season, and one of Bynum’s body parts is hurting again. This time it is his right knee.
Now, don’t get me wrong, he has been diagnosed with partially torn cartilage, so nobody is saying the injury isn’t legitimate. There has to be some pain there, and obviously, the easiest way to heal is to rest the knee.
But with the conference finals starting tonight against Phoenix, and the league finals hopefully looming in the near future, Bynum can’t be rested. He needs to play.
The question is, how much will he be out there? With Kobe Bryant, it wouldn’t even be a question. Kobe has proven he can endure the pain and keep going. He’s been playing practically the whole year with a fractured finger, hasn’t he? His own knee is hurting, too. But that doesn’t stop him.
It has stopped Bynum in the past. Lots of things have stopped Bynum in the past. Even when healthy, the big guy has been known to float in and out of Phil Jackson’s famous triangle.
Sometimes he is there, scoring and rebounding and looking like the best young center in the league. Other times he disappears, finishing with a few points and even fewer rebounds, leaving everyone to wonder what is going on.
So as the Lakers head into this series and, they hope, the next one, the key once again is Bynum. If he is on the court and functioning even at half speed along with the brilliant Pau Gasol, the Suns simply can’t match up with the defending champs. Jackson will order the ball to be pounded inside, and despite Steve Nash’s wonderful point guard play, Phoenix can’t possibly keep up.
Then, if as it is starting to appear, the dreaded Boston Celtics are next, Bynum’s availability will be even more crucial. Did you see the way the Celts roughed up Orlando’s massive Dwight Howard on Sunday? Do you remember the way they overpowered Gasol inside two years ago?
Boston has the big bodies to offset the Lakers’ strength in the paint, meaning Bynum’s lengthy presence will be needed even more in that series.
Here is the other reason the big guy is so important: When he’s starting, Lamar Odom can come off the bench to provide energy and relief, not to mention some points and rebounds, when needed. When Bynum isn’t in the regular lineup, Odom has to start, and Jackson’s bench is practically non-existant.
So yeah, much of the Lakers’ success, or failure, the rest of the way rests with the tall, lanky kid with the innocent eyes.
Can he suck it up and play with his injury? Forget about the knee, what about his heart?
Bynum is the one the Lakers hope to build their future around in the post-Kobe era.
This will be the first big test to find out if he’s tough enough to handle the job.
— Steve Bisheff