Sunday, April 27, 2008

Can the Lakers Get By Without Bynum?

The Los Angeles Lakers are on a postseason roll. They look pretty formidable right now, but the question on every Laker’s fan mind is—can this team win it all with out Andrew Bynum? The young center was supposed to be back from injury a month ago, but now it appears as though he might not be returning at all.
It hasn’t hurt them so far in the series against Denver. The Lakers have dominated every aspect of the series and shut down the Nuggets’ two big scorers—Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson. But, if and when they have to play teams like Utah, San Antonio or Phoenix, they’re going to have to play a team featuring a big man in the middle, and it will be tough without a large body to put up against a true center.
For those who aren’t familiar with the situation, Bynum injured his knee on January 13th when he landed on a teammate’s foot going for a rebound. He went to a knee specialist in New York on April 17th, but still hasn’t been cleared to practice.
The Lakers won’t comment on Bynum’s status and have been mysteriously quiet about the whole thing.
At this point, it might just be a better idea to leave Bynum out for the remainder of the season. To bring him in at this late date could disturb team chemistry. The Lakers are running on all cylinders right now, and the Lakers might just be able to win the NBA title without him, so why risk injuring a player with an obviously bright future by rushing him into the playoffs?
And then, if he is ready to play, how smart would it be to bring in a young player to go up against guys like Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan and/or Tyson Chandler? If he fails, it could be extremely harmful to his psyche. Bringing him back this year might not be fair to the kid.
Or maybe when Bynum’s ready, the Lakers could use him sparingly in the playoffs, for possibly 10-15 minutes per game. If he vastly improves, they could play him more in the NBA Finals. He could just be the Willis Reed of the Finals and provide the Lakers with the missing piece they require to go all the way.
This is what the rampaging Lakers did in Denver yesterday:
Bryant scored 22 points and the Los Angeles Lakers took a 3-0 lead in their first-round series, routing the flustered Nuggets 102-84 on Saturday.
Game 4 is Monday night, and the Nuggets are going to have to get more out of their All-Star duo of Carmelo Anthony and Allen Iverson if they hope to take the series back to the Staples Center.
Anthony and Iverson were miserable from the floor, shooting a combined 10-for-38 and finishing with 16 and 15 points, respectively.
Bryant was quiet, too, at least in the first half, when he scored eight points on 3-for-8 shooting.
An air ball slowed Bryant's surge just when it looked like he was going to repeat his 19-point, 4½-minute surge in Game 2, but the Nuggets trailed 69-51 after Lamar Odom's two free throws.
Anthony drew a technical foul -- Denver's seventh in the series -- after he was stripped on his way to the basket, leading to a breakaway by Bryant that stretched the Lakers' lead to 78-61 with 2:33 left in the third.
Los Angeles took an 83-64 lead into the fourth quarter and never looked back.
Luke Walton added 15 points off the bench for Los Angeles, and Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher each scored 14.
By the closing minutes, the Lakers' bench was more interested in a fight in the stands that led to some belligerent fans being taken away by police officers. Even Bryant stuck a peek while teammate Jordan Farmar was shooting free throws at the other end of the court.
On his next touch, Bryant hit a 3-pointer from the right elbow for a 100-78 lead, then took a seat and acknowledged with a thumbs-up his very own cheering section that had drowned out the boo birds during the second half and continued the "MVP!" chants that serenaded him back in California.
The Nuggets, who have lost seven straight playoff games, not only wanted to keep their composure coming back to Colorado, but they also figured they could get to the rim and the foul line more than they had in the first two games in Los Angeles.
Nothing doing.
They limped to the locker room trailing 53-46 at halftime with 'Melo and A.I. a combined 5-for-21, pretty much negating the boost they got from forward Linas Kleiza's start.
Kleiza's insertion into the starting lineup in Game 2 in place of guard Anthony Carter was key to the Nuggets keeping up with the taller Lakers -- until he hyper-extended his right elbow on a hard foul by Gasol and the Lakers pulled away for another double-digit win.
Despite missing practice Friday, Kleiza scored 15 points, but he got little help.
With Denver missing jumpers, layups, committing three-second violations and not drawing any fouls, the Lakers began pulling away after Anthony's basket with 4:29 left in the second quarter had tied it at 42.
Bryant hit a sweet six-foot jumper, Gasol sank a free throw and Vladimir Radmanovic swished a 3-pointer, forcing the Nuggets to call timeout.
It didn't help. Gasol sank two more foul shots to make it 51-42 before Iverson hit four free throws in the final minute. Before that, the Nuggets had shot just four free throws all game.
Denver defensive specialist Kenyon Martin was the only one keeping the Nuggets from getting trampled early on. He hit four of his first six shots while his teammates were a combined 1-for-13 from the floor.
In the third quarter, however, Martin was the victim more often than not as Bryant got hot and starting hitting all kinds of shots over and around him.
(Portions of this article courtesy of www. and reporter Matt Levine, Todd Axtell’s Sports Review and the Tom Shine NBA Report)

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