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Lakers make right choice in playing Andrew Bynum

May 25, 2010 |  4:33 pm

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A typical day in the past two weeks for Lakers center Andrew Bynum has involved going to practice in flip flops and receiving continuous treatment on the torn cartilage in his right knee, an approach Bynum and the team hope will ensure maximum health during the Lakers' postseason run. Since Phil Jackson's suggestion that he may sit out Bynum tonight when the Lakers play Game 4 of the Western Conference finals against the Phoenix Suns, plenty of sentiment has poured out that Bynum should duplicate his practice routine on game nights, arguing that the Lakers should rest Bynum altogether in hopes that he'd be at full strength should the Lakers advance to the NBA Finals and presumably play the Boston Celtics.

Jackson has since changed his stance and stated that he plans to play Bynum tonight, but the debate over Bynum's health still continues. The Times' Bill Plaschke recently argued Bynum should rest until the NBA Finals, saying, "Time won't heal the torn meniscus, but perhaps it will strengthen everything around it, including his spirit, and better prepare him for more important battles ahead." Yahoo! Sports' Johnny Ludden pointed to Bynum's ineffective two points and four fouls in eight minutes in Game 3 as well as being partly responsible for Amare Stoudemire's 42 points in the Lakers' 118-109 loss to Phoenix, concluding, "Sitting Bynum isn’t guaranteed to help – he just had three days off, and that failed to spark an uptick in his production – but it also couldn’t hurt, given his ongoing struggles. The Lakers are used to playing without Bynum and they shouldn’t need him to beat the Suns, whose quick pace only exacerbates his ineffectiveness." ESPN Los Angeles' Brian Kamenetzky disagrees with the notion that Bynum should sit, explaining, "Unless it can be demonstrated that Bynum's condition would truly improve, pulling him out of the lineup could do a lot more damage to his psyche than a few bad games along the way would do. He has invested a great deal in the process of getting out on the floor, particularly given his injury history. Earlier in the playoffs, Bynum said he didn't feel like a veteran despite being in his fifth year because he hasn't accomplished enough as a player."

All three writers raise legitimate points with how there are plenty of variables to weigh regarding how the Lakers should use Bynum. But in the end, it's still necessary for Bynum to be out on the floor for many practical purposes.

One, all accounts indicate that rest won't structurally improve Bynum's knee until he has surgery, which he's chosen to have once the season ends. He opted to follow this route because having surgery would've entailed time off and an unpredictable rehabilitation process, a procedure Bynum's all too familiar with after missing 46 games in the 2007-08 season, including the entire postseason because of a left knee injury, as well as sitting out 32 games last season because of a right knee injury. On the same note, Bynum's activity in games, we're told, isn't going to leave him vulnerable for more structural damage on his knee. So why has Bynum then sat out of practice? He experienced swelling in his right knee at some point between Games 3 and 4 of the Lakers' Western Conference semifinal against Utah, and all the treatment he's receiving aims to reduce the swelling.

Those arguing that having a similar procedure during games will significantly help Bynum's injury only need to look at the weeklong lapse between the Utah and Phoenix series to understand why that's not an automatic formula for success. Though the Lakers took the right approach in keeping him out of practice, the constant treatment had a minimal affect on Bynum's knee, providing further limitation in the lineup. That means regardless of how much Bynum rests or sits, the Lakers will enter the NBA Finals against Boston (again, presuming this happens) unsure how Bynum's health will fare, a concern that heightens considering Boston's front line features Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace.

Those arguing that Bynum's presence actually hinders the Lakers production only need to watch the Lakers' 124-112 Game 2 victory over Phoenix. Though Bynum played only 18 minutes, he scored 13 points on five of five shooting and helped present one of many mismatches the Phoenix had trouble defending. There's no coincidence that Bynum's performance correlated with the Lakers' strong inside game with Pau Gasol (29 points) and Lamar Odom (17 points, 11 rebounds) since the Lakers' big men are known to have big nights when they're involved early in the game. Bynum may have finished with only four points on two of four shooting in 19 minutes in the Lakers' 128-107 Game 1 victory over Phoenix. It's no coincidence that the Lakers' first-quarter run began as soon Odom replaced him at the 5:31 mark and scored seven consecutive points. As far as Bynum's two-point performance in Game 3, his effort there seemed more rooted in the four fouls he collected than his knee. It also didn't help that Odom collected as many fouls as rebounds (both six). If Bynum were to stay out of the lineup in Game 4 or 5 against Phoenix, one can only imagine what Stoudemire and Robin Lopez would do in the lane, given their increased aggressiveness.

The hard part regarding Bynum's injury is that it involves too many variables to predict accurately how things will turn out. The Lakers thought after winning the 2009 championship largely without him, they'd be able to absorb Bynum's 13-game absence at the end of the season because of a strained left Achilles'. But the Lakers went 6-7 during his injury. The Lakers anticipated an adjustment period upon Bynum's return considering his history in taking a while to phase back into the lineup following an injury. But he scored 13 points in 30 minutes, five minutes more than Jackson anticipated Bynum could play. The Lakers imagined the weeklong rest between the Utah and Phoenix series making a huge difference. But it hasn't. Despite all the uncertainty, however, a limited Bynum still helps the Lakers more than if he sat out entirely. Though it might be tempting to think ahead and rest him for the Boston series, history shows that conventional thinking goes out the window when it comes to Bynum's injuries.

--Mark Medina

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

Photo: Lakers center Andrew Bynum fouls Suns point guard Goran Dragic during the first half of Game 3 on Sunday. Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times.


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