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Lakers 99, Spurs 85: Sticking it to the Measuring Stick

January 26, 2009 |  9:40 am

If you listen to the audio portion of the K Brothers' postgame breakdown, you'll hear Kobe Bryant refer to theFarmar perenially good San Antonio Spurs as a "measuring stick" team, the type that allows an opponent to evaluate their own worth.  Hard to argue with The Mamba's assessment. After all, the Spurs have remained in the Western Conference mix since their '99 title.  And with that definition in mind, Sunday afternoon's 99-85 win over the Spurs was a very impressive one.  Lot to enjoy en route to a win creating even more distance between the Lakers and the rest of the West.

For starters, you had Jordan Farmar not simply returning much earlier than expected from knee surgery, but barely missing a beat upon hitting the court.   5-7 from the field for 14 points in his first box score entry since December 19th.  It was worth pestering his physical therapist for the okay.  There was also some terrific defense that limited the Spurs to sub-40% success from the field.  Throw in a strong collective showing from the starters and Bench Mob and it was enough to prompt Pop into an early surrender.

But beyond all that, the biggest story may have been the work of Andrew Bynum mano y' mano against the great Tim Duncan.Dre_2   Drew held his idol in check, maintaining an impressive recent wave of excellence that's got folks wondering if he may be the tipping point in a title quest. 

As ESPN's J.A. Adande notes, Bynum's work against Duncan was low on eyepopping stats, but meant more than his gaudy numbers against the Clips and Wiz.  Even if Drew himself might not fully grasp the significance. 

       Bynum was in the middle of it all. He had 11 rebounds and four blocked shots. He guarded Duncan one-on-one and held his own. He made 7 of 8 free throws to pick up his points on a day his field goal attempts weren't falling (4-for-10). The only thing he didn't do was acknowledge this was the best game of his recent run of double-doubles.

       "I still think I went out there and played better the other two nights because my field goal percentage was better," Bynum said.  "My career high in points, that was a real special game for me," he added later.

       Well, he is only 21 years old. Sometimes young people lack perspective. They think Jay-Z's "The Blueprint" was a better album than Public Enemy's "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back." They think dunk-fests and scoring sprees are better than defensive lock-downs.  At least Bynum is a young man with a fast learning curve. He heard the criticism he received for totaling 12 rebounds in three games (including a 20-3 rebounding clinic at the hands of Dwight Howard) and responded with games of 15, 14 and 11 rebounds.

Mark Heisler of the L.A. Times thinks Bynum signals a big problem for the Spurs, much less the rest of the L.

      If the Lakers haven't been awesome, it has to do with their complicated new defense, their, uh, patient approach, and one other thing -- the time it has taken Bynum to come online.  The most impressive thing about their 35-8 record is that they've done it with a minimal Bynum, coming off surgery, eager to justify his new $57-million deal and dismayed to find he had fallen from the No. 2 option on offense last season to No. 4, 5 or 6.  On a per-minute basis, that 7.6-rebound average Bynum took into last week's breakout game against the Clippers was worse than the 5.9 a game he took in 22 minutes in his second season, when he was 19.

     So, Bynum had either A) forgotten how to play, or B) had some things to sort out, mentally and physically.  Happily for the Lakers, the answer was B.

Johnny Ludden of Yahoo! discusses how Bynum's resurgence has the West looking more and more like a one team show.

       If their latest outing was any indication, the Lakers figure to turn the West race into their own joke. Bynum has now strung together three impressive performances, putting up 42 points and 15 boards against the Los Angeles Clippers, and 23 and 14 against the Washington Wizards in his previous two games. Taking advantage of DeAndre Jordan is one thing; holding his own against Duncan is another. Bynum made the future Hall of Famer work for his points, even throwing back one of his shots, and when Bynum sealed him off late in the third quarter to intercept a deflected pass, Duncan grabbed the Lakers center in frustration for his fourth foul. Duncan went to the bench, where he stayed for the rest of game.

      “He’s got a big body and defensively I thought he was effective,” Duncan said, “but I don’t know that he was much better than he ever was before.”