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Andrew Bynum debate: What to expect upon his return

December 14, 2010 |  6:55 am

Bynum_300 Andrew Bynum says he's ready to play. The Lakers say they're ready to activate him and turn him loose Tuesday night against the Washington Wizards. Lakers fans and NBA followers worldwide have debated and followed his progress from this summer's surgical repair of his right knee to the precipice of his return.

And nobody knows exactly what to expect. Not even the Lakers. But if there were ever a game for him to debut following his rehabilitation, this match-up against the Wizards in Washington would be it.

The Wizards happen to have three 7-footers and two more forwards at 6-11. Yet none are physical specimens who will require endless minutes of physical play in the post. Bynum's agility will be tested because Washington starts JaVale McGee at center, an Amare Stoudemire/Tyson Chandler-type center who is active in pick-and-roll plays and crashing the boards at both ends of the floor. Fans will get a good look at how Bynum moves on the court and reacts as the Wizards' plays unfold, particularly against the lightning-quick John Wall, who will test the Lakers' guards and interior defense with his slashing moves to the basket.

Is Bynum really ready to come back? Are the Lakers rushing him into action to take pressure off power forward Pau Gasol, who seems to be wearing down game by game as he battles in the middle? It's hard to believe the team would put Bynum's recovery in peril. It seems more likely they would simply cut back Gasol's minutes even at the risk of losing games in December to inferior opponents.

Bynum has primarily participated in three-on-three and four-on-four scrimmages, from what I hear. That's likely because the Lakers don't have enough healthy and rested bodies to scrimmage full court between games. One would have to believe he's ready to go Tuesday night. The Lakers have been careful to bring him along slowly this fall and make sure he's fit to withstand the rigors of practice and now an NBA game.

Which brings us to Tuesday night. Coach Phil Jackson said Bynum was likely to play about 15 minutes. Whether he starts or comes off the bench -- supposedly that's Bynum's decision -- expect the 15 or so minutes of playing time that Bynum collects to greatly benefit Gasol and Lamar Odom. There's no denying that cutting back on Gasol's and Odom's minutes is just as important as Bynum's methodical return to full playing shape.

Speaking of which, don't expect Bynum to be a big contributor on offense. He's going to need a few games to get his wind and timing back. If he's been primarily scrimmaging in half-court sets, no amount of treadmill and agility work is going to get his cardio into game shape. Once he does, expect him to return to his 15-point, eight-rebound average of last season before he was injured.

Bynum's biggest effect will be on defense and rebounding at both ends of the floor. His offensive game will come around in time, as will his conditioning. Until then, clogging the lane, altering and blocking shots, helping on defense and providing some relief for Gasol and Odom will be most important.

-- Dan Loumena

Photo: Lakers power forward Pau Gasol and center Andrew Bynum chat during their visit with President Obama on Monday. Credit: Michael Reynolds / EPA


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