Andrew Bynum hoping he can play through pain
There was no beating around the bush from Lakers center Andrew Bynum.
"I am kind of injury prone," he said.
Of course, Bynum's injury history is something Lakers fans know all to well, the latest being a cartilage tear in his right knee. He had missed 47 games in the 2007-08 season because of a left knee injury, 32 last season because of a right knee injury and 17 games this season, including the final 13 of the regular season because of a strained left Achilles' tendon.
But this time, Bynum doesn't plan to sit out for several reasons. Doctors told him that even though they remain cautious, they don't foresee him risking himself to more structural damage. A game off here or there won't do much in the healing process because Bynum said there's no swelling around the knee. And having minor surgery -- an option he's considering this off-season -- would only keep him out of the lineup until possibly the NBA Finals, assuming the Lakers get to that point. But there's one clear reason why he's strongly opposed to the latter option.
"I don't want to go through the process of getting back in shape," Bynum said. "It's going to be painful. I'm ready to run through that and fix it later."
In a weird twist, Bynum's health seems to worsen just as Lakers guard Kobe Bryant seems to be returning to full form. He had scored at least 30 points in the last two games and indicated after the Lakers' 104-99 Game 1 victory Sunday over the Utah Jazz that his knee feels much better. Of course, Bryant has assorted injuries, including arthritis in the knuckle of his right index finger, a sore right knee, a sprained left ankle and periodic back spasms. So when Bryant says those injuries are feeling better, it's all relative. Still, it's much better than what he faced during the Lakers' first-round match-up with Oklahoma City. Said Bryant: "In two of the games, I played on one leg, basically."
Surely, the Lakers in the past have managed to succeed without Bynum, including their path to the 2008-09 championship. But the circumstances are different this year. Case in point: The Lakers went 6-7 in the final 13 games in the regular season, when Bynum remained on the sideline.
There were plenty of other factors that contributed to the Lakers limping into the playoffs. That included the team's lack of urgency, poor outside shooting, poor screen-and-roll defense and the bench play. If Bynum had played during the last part of the trip, it's conceivable the Lakers could've won more games, but it's also conceivable they could've won had they sharpened the aforementioned problems, with or without Bynum.
Nonetheless, his absence exposed the Lakers' weaknesses even more. So given the circumstances, Bynum appearing in limited minutes seems to be the better alternative than him sitting out.
There's never a good time to get injured. Case in point: Bynum's strained left Achilles' tendon happened just after putting together a monthlong average in March of 15.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks on 56.8% shooting. That included a four-game stretch in which he posted 20 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks on 63.3% shooting. But at least for now, Bynum's limited play really shouldn't pose much of a problem against Utah, which lacks an answer to the Lakers' post presence. Even with Bynum scoring eight points on four of eight shooting along with 10 rebounds in only 25 minutes in Game 1, Lakers forward Pau Gasol picked up the slack with 25 points on nine of 15 shooting along with five blocks.
Nonetheless, it remains unclear how much Lakers Coach Phil Jackson will play Bynum, other than treating each game on a case-by-case basis. Still, this is going to put more pressure on Lakers forward Lamar Odom, and the rest of the reserve unit to fill the void. Odom will likely have increased playing time since he's the first guy off the bench and started in Bynum's place during his absence, a role Jackson hopes is much better than his disappearing act against Oklahoma City. And as for the rest of the bench? Well, pretty much everyone on the team made it painstakingly clear that the reserves' play in the fourth quarter in Game 1 nearly cost them.
To come full circle, Bynum's injury sparked a debate among the team on the unwritten rule in sports for athletes to play through injuries. And the Lakers have plenty of them, Bynum, Ron Artest's sprained left thumb and sore fingers, and Odom's left shoulder. "Welcome to the club," Bryant simply stated regarding Bynum's latest injury.
Jackson, Odom and Lakers guard Derek Fisher acknowledged that unwritten rule for players to fight through the pain, an approach Bynum hopes ultimately works out. "I don't think there's any guy on any team that wants to endanger a teammate for the sake of making sure the team gets what they want," Fisher said. "At the same time, the individual player, when you've been in team sports your whole life, you take on some of the burden and responsibilities that come with being on the team. You don't want to let your team down."
We'll soon find out if that approach benefits both Bynum and the Lakers.
-- Mark Medina
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