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Lakers hope long-term approach with Andrew Bynum pays off for possible NBA Finals matchup

May 22, 2010 | 10:07 am

It's about the only point Lakers Coach Phil Jackson conceded that he has at least thought about the NBA Finals. That is, involving, center Andrew Bynum, who often can't go without a single sentence or prepositional phrase without a mention of an injury.

With the Lakers' center playing with torn cartilage in his right knee since the beginning of the semifinal series against the Utah Jazz, the Lakers had hoped a weeklong span of rest before the West Finals against the Phoenix Suns would improve his health. But the injury remains an issue, not particularly with the current series that the Lakers lead 2-0, but further down the line should the Lakers advance to the NBA Finals presumably against the Boston Celtics.

"We'll really be watching it closely," Jackson said before the Lakers' 124-112 Game 2 victory over Phoenix where Bynum scored 13 points on five of five shooting before the game. "We know if we're fortunate enough to continue in the playoffs, there will be bigger, more powerful centers ahead."

Jackson mentioned the team limited Bynum's work Thursday to therapy and individual post moves. But as far as how the team hopes that approach pays off against Boston in an NBA Finals matchup? Jackson wouldn't go there.

"You can't worry about anything but this one right now," Jackson said.

It's hard not to wonder, considering Boston's history and their makeup of the team. With Bynum out during the 2008 NBA Finals, Boston center Kendrick Perkins owned Pau Gasol inside for much of the series. In their Eastern Conference semifinal, Perkins and Rasheed Wallace teamed up to hold Magic center Dwight Howard to three of 10 shooting in Game 1. Though Howard answered in Game 2 with 30 points, many of the baskets came deep into the shot clock. Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, who's fully recovered from his right-knee injury, has made Orlando forward Rashard Lewis into a disappearing act, averaging only 5.5 points on four of 17 shooting.

In fairness, Gasol is a much different player than he was in the 2008 Finals. And he's given little indication he will deviate from the consistent production, scoring at least 20 points in six times in the last eight games. But he conceded Bynum will be heavily needed if the Lakers would advance to the NBA Finals and face either Boston or Orlando.

Some may wonder why Bynum hasn't taken a long-term absence instead of playing limited minutes, but there's a clear reason why. Besides the fact Bynum wants to play in the playoffs and is fully aware his teammates are also playing through assorted injuries, the structural part of his injury is going to require surgery, and the exact timetable of that recovery process would be unpredictable. The only reason he's sitting out in practices is so he can have maximum treatment to ensure that the swelling around his knee remains down. With all accounts saying that Bynum's not leaving himself vulnerable to structural damage in his knee, a limited Bynum is more important than an absent Bynum. Though he went scoreless in Game 3 against Utah, had six points against the Jazz in Game 4 and four points against Phoenix in Game 1, he averaged 21.33 minutes in that contest.

And even with playing only 18 minutes in Game 2 against Phoenix, Bynum scored 13 points on five of five shooting. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, whose participation in Thursday's practice only entailed therapy for his sore right knee and individual footwork, valued Bynum's limited production but refused to delve into his importance should the Lakers advance to the NBA Finals.

-- Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter: twitter.com/latmedina. E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com.


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