A Bynum-less existence to bear
Tonight's game against the Raptors marks the second contest played entirely minus the services of
Andrew Bynum. How long the purple and gold need to weather the storm remains to be seen. As ESPN correspondent Dr. Michael Kaplan told me yesterday, the 8-12 week estimate could be a conservative guess, but the body remains an impossible animal to pin down. To some degree, Bynum's recovery can't be controlled.
What is easier to control, however, is how the Lakers play while he recovers. Some folks stand to be affected by this hurdle more than others, so I decided to break down what I think will be needed from them in particular. Those unmentioned (Jordan Farmar, Derek Fisher, Vlad Radmanovic, Sasha Vujacic and Luke Walton) pretty much need to do exactly what's been expected of them. But better, since everyone must step up their respective games.
As for other eight fellas...
Kobe Bryant: Maintain the 61 point average established Monday against the Knicks and everything's ducky.
- Kidding. Not only is that approach completely unnecessary, but
nobody is likely more aware of its unnecessariousness than The Mamba
(despite any concerns from SI's Paul Forrester).
Truth be told, I don't think Kobe needs to change much of anything he's
done all season (or for that matter, last season). I only mention
Bryant because as I sifted through various discussions about Kobe's 61
being a "reaction" to Bynum's injury- which I think could be the case
on some level- a thought occurred to me. Who's to say the MSG night
wouldn't have happened with Drew healthy? As if Kobe couldn't go on a
shooting/scoring tear with the roster fully intact?
I don't say this to encourage an examination of Kobe's "sharing" ability. I'm just stating what I think is obvious. We've witnessed Kobe act as a one man scoring crew many times over his career. And there will be more instances down the road. The point of contention (assuming one exists) is how often- and literally how- the jag happens, plus the effect on the team. But instead of speculating whether this game signaled "stylistic shift" for Kobe, as BK said, why don't we just wait to find out? Until then, I'm willing to treat "61" as a nothing more than a seriously impressive feat. Or at most, a reminder to Kobe's teammates that, if need be, he can be the great equalizer.
Pau Gasol: Shove first, ask questions later.
- For El Spaniard, a slide back to the five isn't just deja vu to his original Laker gig. It raises again the question of Pau's "softness," how often he gets pushed around while trying to establish a presence in the paint. As I've said many times and don't need to rehash, I think this storyline grew seriously overblown during the playoffs and particularly against Boston. But assuming Pau doesn't want to deal with a daily round of "How tough are you?" questions from now until the day Drew suits up, my advice would be to administer a few shots of his own, and without provocation. Nothing dirty. Certainly nothing that would injure. Just a subtle elbow to the back here or a hard screen here. Pick some very selective spots to mix it up, even if means a tech. Stop the "Soft-Gate II" yap before it even becomes an issue.
Lamar Odom: Don't worry about being a traditional "All-Star," just be the one your team needs.
- When BK and I appeared last night on the 710 ESPN Laker Insider Show with Fred Roggin, we were asked if we thought Lamar Odom could step up to alleviate Drew's absence. As BK pointed out, he did last year, so why doubt a repeat? But I did note a caveat. If you're defining "stepping up" as being a consistent 18-22 ppg scorer, that's likely a disappointment in the making. Some folks have waited nine plus seasons for such production. They really oughta let go of that dream, especially since the Lakers have enough folks willing and able to stroke nylon. Where LO really needs to pick up the slack for Drew is on the glass and defensively. 14 rebounds and a trio of blocks against the Knicks laid a very promising foundation, one that will ultimately make or break the Lakers considerably more than the amount of points racked.
Trevor Ariza: Rewrite last year's playoff talk.
- As the Lakers encountered their first 2008 postseason struggle against the Boston Celtics, the pundits killed time between "soft-gate" talk by pontificating about how things might be different with Andrew Bynum in the mix. And yes, a big man playing at Drew's pre-injury level would have absolutely changed the series' complexion. But amidst all that poetic waxing, how much the absence of a healthy Trevor Ariza hindered L.A.'s quest got lost. The two-way slasher was technically "available," but typically more rusty than effective. But at 100%, there's no doubt in my mind Trevor could have made Paul Pierce's at least a little tougher. Now, he's got the unfortunate chance to prove how much he can help a Bynum-less team.
Josh Powell/Chris Mihm: Make the minutes matter.
- Previously a crap shoot to even remove their warmups, no two Lakers stand to see their role drastically expanded more than this duo. In particular, I see Powell's minutes goosed quite a bit, which isn't a bad thing at all. As the coaching staff has made clear all season, JP's status outside the rotation has been purely a numbers thing, not a "dissatisfaction" thing. And minute for minute, you can make an argument that no Laker has made more of their chances than Josh Powell. But like we saw against Memphis when Drew got hurt (and JP didn't get off the bench), matchups will dictate his burn. In that particular game, the Lakers needed someone to spell Pau Gasol against his burly bro and Powell would have been surrendering almost 40 lbs. Thus, Mihm played ten minutes and despite a faulty shooting touch, snagged six boards, blocked a shot, and, most importantly, looked like a servicable role player (as opposed to a memorably disastrous three minute stint against the Celts, where he has no business being on the court).
Can either guy "fill the void" of Drew? Be the proverbial "answer?" I seriously doubt it. But the good news is that saviors aren't required at the moment. What's needed from Powell and/or Mihm is 10-15 productive minutes (occasionally more, often less) as legit backups. I think both are capable, but if you're looking for another confirmation, esteemed scribe Roland Lazenby is also offering a vote of confidence for Mihm.
Sun Yue/DJ Mbenga: Keep on keeping on.
- Although, really, that goes without saying.