Lakers vow better effort to complement Andrew Bynum
Before telling reporters that draining his right knee would do very little to improve his health, Lakers center Andrew Bynum actually found out otherwise. Immediately after the Lakers' Game 4 loss Thursday to Boston, Bynum had his right knee drained for the second time in two weeks, hoping the reduced swelling around the torn cartilage of his right knee would make a difference.
It was a procedure he remained skeptical about since the first procedure did very little to ease the pain. But an evaluation from the Lakers' training staff made it clear to Bynum which path he should chose.
"It was either not play or get it drained," Bynum said.
That means Bynum will play without reservations Sunday in Game 5 of the Lakers' NBA Finals series against the Celtics. But as it has been for a while regarding Bynum's injury history, the team is guardedly optimistic that the latest procedure will be enough to keep Bynum on the floor for the rest of the series.
"He's going to give it a shot," Jackson said, "and see how he does."
If the two days of treatment between games proves anything, Bynum expects to provide more than he did in Game 4, when he played only 12 minutes and missed most of the second half because of the increased swelling in his knee. Bynum observed that the swelling hasn't come back since draining his knee again. But that procedure is the same reason why Bynum maintained a guarded outlook on his health.
"This time it hasn't come back as quickly," Bynum said of the swelling. "It's on its way. But for now, I'll be able to play."
That means the Lakers should feel both excited Bynum appears ready to play and worried he will experience setbacks. It's the unpredictable nature regarding Bynum's injury, which doctors have assessed can't cause more structural damage and surgery can wait until after the playoffs. But since the knee will require surgery, the amount of swelling will determine how pain Bynum experiences when he's on the court. Lakers forward Pau Gasol said Bynum's presence significantly helps in rebounding and defense, two areas Gasol said has proved to be the "difference in the series" with each the outcome of each game in the series going to the team that wins the effort on the glass.
Yet, the Lakers are aware of how much they need contributions from others in case Bynum remains limited. For one, the matchups change with Gasol playing center and Lamar Odom playing power forward. Bynum fills the perfect spot for making easy put-backs and getting contested rebounds, saving what could actually become wasted possessions for the Lakers. Gasol's game relies more on his effective footwork, penetration around the lane and his mid-range jump shot. The switch also means Kendrick Perkins would guard Gasol instead of Kevin Garnett, a matchup Jackson believes goes in favor of the Celtics.
"He's got the ability to displace Pau even though that's not part of the standards of the game, but he does move him off the post," Jackson said. "He has less mobility on the outside perhaps than Kevin does, and so Pau has to step out and use his speed and quickness as opposed to perhaps post-up position and size."
That's why Perkins believes it gives the Celtics "an advantage." Likewise, Odom has played up top in directing the offense instead of playing near the basket. Part of the approach speaks to Odom's skill-set, but it also speaks to how the Lakers didn't run their offense properly with Bynum out of the lineup.
"Having Andrew out there in a lot of ways kind of anchors our game," Lakers guard Derek Fisher said. "When we have our big guys out there, for the most part they're only two or three other places for everyone else to go in our system. It helps settles things a lot more. When we bring Lamar in, his versatility is a big advantage for us. But sometimes we get away from running our basic offense."
There's no coincidence then that Jackson expects the rest of the Lakers' front line to produce more, including Odom and small forward Ron Artest. But both seemed to downplay the suggestion.
"I'm not worried about that," Odom said. "I've always been a good basketball player, always will be. It's what I get paid to do. That's why you're here asking me questions."
Yet, Odom acknowledged his play in the Finals "could be better," though he suggested the first two games didn't really count since he was plagued with foul trouble. That left him with one bad performance in Game 4 where Glen "Big Baby" Davis exploited Odom's lack of aggressiveness. He cited Ray Allen's performance when he broke the NBA record in three-pointers in Game 2 and followed in Game 3 by going zero for 13 from the field, arguing that those snapshots aren't anything definitive.
The problem with Odom's claim is that his game has rarely dealt with production in numbers and his presence on the court. Though he maintains pride in playing a complementary role, Odom's been inconsistent with his effort. There is some good news for the Lakers, however. Anytime Jackson calls him out publicly, Odom usually responds in appropriate fashion.
Meanwhile, Jackson wants Artest "just to find a shot and get consistent with it," a role he's largely struggled filling in this Finals as indicated by his 32.4% mark from the field. Similar to Odom's reaction, Artest downplayed the suggestion he needs to have a big performance in Game 5.
"You can have a breakout game and still lose," Artest said. "That happened a lot in the playoffs. Guys average 20 plus and lose, right? It depends on who you want on your team. do you want a superstar, do commercials and lose. Or do you want someone to win?"
That really isn't the point, though. The Lakers have understandably asked Artest to limit his shot selection, an area Artest has actually made a concerted effort in following. But that doesn't mean he should remove himself from the offense completely. Case in point, his most recent standout performance where he scored 25 points on 10-of-16 shooting in the Lakers' series-clinching victory over Phoenix showed the effort went beyond having a good shooting night. He worked within the offense by moving off the ball, filling in the open gaps and passing to the open man. There's no question Artest can still fulfill that role.
--Mark Medina, in BostonFollow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter: twitter.com/latmedina. E-mail the Lakers blog at firstname.lastname@example.org