Lakers hope rest pays off today in Game 3 against Utah
It's been four days since the Lakers last played, a long span that's welcomed within these circles, given the ongoing injuries. And that period of rest couldn't have been more beneficial than to Lakers center Andrew Bynum, who has been monitoring the lateral meniscus in his right knee in the Western Conference semifinals.
No period of rest, he's been told by doctors, will significantly heal his injury. The Lakers also feel they owe it to each other to play through the pain as they pursue another NBA championship, what with Lakers guard Kobe Bryant nursing a sore right knee, sprained left ankle and arthritis in his right index finger, Lamar Odom nursing a a sore left shoulder and sprained right knee and Ron Artest playing with a sprained left thumb and assorted finger injuries. But that doesn't mean this four-day period didn't prove critical for Bynum, who's still taking the extra steps to ensure his injury doesn't become worse."It's been big," Bynum said. "I have to stay off of it and keep the swelling down." That's why he received treatment for most of Thursday's practice, but he maintained he won't be limited for Saturday night's game, a welcome development considering he scored 17 points on seven of nine shooting along with 14 rebounds and four blocked shots in the Lakers' 111-103 Game 2 victory Tuesday over Utah. Now comes the point in which Bynum has to apply mental toughness for Game 3, a quality he said has helped him get through the pain.
"Don't look back; just keep going," said Bynum, who added that his sprained left Achilles' tendon is fully healed. "If it gets swelling, just put a bunch of treatment in and let's go."
And the statistics support Bryant's timeline. In Game 4, Bryant didn't even attempt a shot in the first quarter and finished with a quiet 12 points on five of 10 shooting. In Game 5, his box score suggested another quiet performance, with 13 points on a four of nine clip, but he set the tone defensively by limiting OKC guard Russell Westbrook to 15 points on four of 13 shooting and facilitating the offense.
In the last three games, Bryant has returned to become the dominant scorer while also maintaining that proper balance in getting others involved. But there's no doubt the Lakers welcome the fact that Bryant has the ability to create on his own, and scoring at least 30 points for the last three games.
That's the formula that's proved so successful against the Jazz thus far. In addition to Bryant's points, the Lakers have dominated inside by scoring 118 points in the paint. Lakers forward Pau Gasol has averaged 23.5 points per game in the first two contests. And in the first two games, Bynum, Gasol and Odom each grabbed at least 10 rebounds apiece, a feat that hasn't happened since the 1985 Portland team accomplished it in a playoff matchup against Dallas.
With the Lakers having that size advantage against Utah, the approach seems pretty simple. But as Gasol says in the video below, it all comes down to how the team executes its skillset.
"We can't be too confident," Gasol said. "We understand how hard it's going to be there."
All series long, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson had described the matchup with the Lakers and Jazz as a matchup that will come down to execution. The teams are very familiar with each other, what with playing four regular season games and meeting each other in the past four postseasons. So even with the return of Utah forward Andrei Kirilenko (strained left calf) and an electric atmosphere at EnergySolutions Arena, Jackson appeared more worried with his team's ability to sustain the same effort than trying to adapt to any strategic changes.
"We pretty much know this team," Jackson said.
It doesn't just come down to how the Lakers come out after a long stretch between games, and they how they maintain their dominance inside. The Lakers' reserves have allowed Utah to creep back in both Games 1 and 2 in the fourth quarter, making what appeared to be dominating victories into close contests.
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Photo: Utah center Kyrylo Fesenko is fouled by Lakers forward Lamar Odom (not pictured) as forward Andrew Bynum defends during Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals on Tuesday. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times