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Andrew Byum and Lamar Odom see maturation process in playing through injuries

June 1, 2010 | 10:11 pm

Lakers forward Lamar Odom has frequently remained in his garage late at night performing various sit-up and push-up exercises. Ever since spraining his left shoulder Feb. 18 against Boston on a dunk over guard Ray Allen, Odom's simply had to find ways to compensate.

"If something is going to hurt," Odom said, "I need something else to be hard and tight so I can protect it."

Meanwhile, Lakers center Andrew Bynum has undergone numerous procedures to treat the torn cartilage in his right knee. In addition to missing all of practice during  the Utah and Phoenix playoff series, and also missing Tuesday's session, he had his knee drained Monday, has worn a compression boot and has undergone interferential therapy. Bynum currently describes his knee as a "little stiff," though he'll have a better idea how healthy his knee really is when he practices Wednesday. Bynum provides a pretty simple reason for why he's delaying surgery until the off-season.

"For me," Bynum said, "it's more not to want to miss out on the collective energy that we all put in together."

With the Lakers preparing for their Finals matchup against Boston beginning Thursday, it's fair to say performances from Bynum and Odom will significantly determine whether the Lakers defend their championship. Those looking for evidence only need to point to the Lakers' 2008 loss to Boston. Bynum missed the series  because of a dislocated kneecap. Odom may as well have been absent with his disappearing act in the 2008 Finals, which entailed Lakers Coach Phil Jackson describing him as "confused" in Game 2, collecting more turnovers (five) and fouls (five) than points (four) in Game 3 and recording single digits in rebounds through the first three contests.

Given the unpredictability regarding Bynum's injury and of Odom's play, it's hard to say whether both will provide what the Lakers need against Boston's frontline that features Kendrick Perkins, Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace. But one thing is painfully clear: Odom and Bynum have made the effort to overcome their respective injuries. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who's played this season through assorted injuries, including his right index finger, left ankle and right knee, notices that "Lamar keeps playing." He also views Bynum's fighting through his latest injury  as a growing step in absorbing them.

"It helped him mature a lot faster in having to play through injuries," Bryant said of Bynum. "You have to still produce and figure things out about your game."

Bynum's done that at times, but it's been a mixed bag. First, the good: In the Lakers' 124-112 Game 2 West finals victory over Phoenix, Bynum scored 13 points on five-for-five shooting in only 18 minutes and helped present one of many mismatches Phoenix had trouble defending. It was no coincidence that Bynum's performance correlated with the Lakers' strong inside game with Pau Gasol (29 points) and Odom (17 points, 11 rebounds), since the Lakers' big men are known to have big nights when they're involved early in the game. Then the bad: Bynum finished with only four points on two-for-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. In his effort in Game 3 against Phoenix, Bynum's two-point performance 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 (six).

Despite Bynum's unpredictability, Jackson sounded even-tempered when describing his health. "We're concerned," he said. "But we're not troubled by it."

Odom's production goes beyond his sprained left shoulder, which Jackson estimated took him a month to adjust. Odom entered Game 1 of the Western Conference finals averaging 8.5 points and 8.1 rebounds, which ranked below his regular-season average of 10.8 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. And the West finals  featured Phoenix forward Amare Stoudemire suggesting Odom had a "lucky game" in Game 1 as well as up-and-down efforts by shooting below .500 in three of the six games. But Odom at least feels comforted that his health won't heavily factor into his efforts in the Finals.

Said Odom: "I'm really become in tune with my body with what I need to do, how I need to feel and how I need to get there."

--Mark Medina

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