Outlining how Andrew Bynum's two-game suspension will affect the Lakers
The Lakers hoped that as time ticked by, it would become more and more apparent that Andrew Bynum would escape a league suspension for his flagrant foul Friday against Michael Beasley.
That didn't happen.
The NBA alerted the Lakers Sunday that Bynum will face a two-game suspension without pay for knocking Beasley to the ground with his right forearm as he drove to the basket late in the fourth quarter, a play that will sideline him Sunday against Portland and Tuesday against Phoenix.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson was predictably displeased with the ruling, as detailed by The Times' Mike Bresnahan, and it doesn't take much basketball savvy to know that this isn't a good thing. But below the jump I explain in detail how Bynum's absence affects the Lakers.
1. The Lakers lose his rebounding and defensive tenacity. As easy the narrative it is to chalk up the Lakers' 11-1 mark since the All-Star break to their willingness to put in more effort, plenty of it has to do with Bynum. He's recorded five consecutive double doubles, averaged 13 rebounds and 2.58 blocks and has been largely instrumental in the Lakers holding teams to 88.58 points since the break.
2. Bynum's absence puts further pressure on Pau Gasol to elevate his game.Bynum's two-game absence is by no means equivalent to the 24-game absence he had at the beginning of the season to treat his surgically repaired right knee. So I can't imagine Gasol suddenly hitting fatigue by playing increased minutes in the next two games like he did during the first 24. But it will be interesting to see how Gasol responds on the rebounding end and on defensive rotations after moving to the center position.
Jackson didn't mince words when he mentioned Gasol as the primary culprit for Minnesota exposing the Lakers on screen-and-rolls. He also didn't bite his tongue by pointing out Gasol has grabbed only five rebounds in four consecutive games, a huge drop to the 10.1 rebounds he averages that ranks him in the league's top five.
Of course, that drop off is partly a by product of Bynum's increased presence. But that shouldn't give Gasol an excuse to allow Bynum to do the dirty work while he just worries about draining mid-range jumpers. Gasol often has appeared motivated by circumstances and when Jackson calls him out so I'd expect Gasol to rise to the challenge.
3. This will put even more pressure on Kobe Bryant to play. Jackson often defers to Bryant on his practice time and playing status, arguing that Bryant knows his body well and demonstrates an extraordinary capability to play through injuries. This is by no means an indictment on Bryant. But there's no other way to put it. His sprained left ankle has severely affected his shooting stroke and elevation, contributing to his 13 of 36 clip (36.1%) in the past two games since spraining his left ankle. Bryant's numbers in March haven't been great to begin with, shooting 39.9% from the field through seven games. But a stiff neck and shoulder after accidentally butting heads with Minnesota's Martell Webster and a sprained left ankle only exacerbates manners. Having Bynum out of the lineup surely won't convince Bryant it's better to sit out.
4. The Lakers bench will be tested. Lamar Odom will start play at power forward in Bynum's absence, a role he's played admirably. Odom's displayed remarkable consistency. But his game has actually elevated as a starter. Consider the stats Odom has posted as a starter and reserve in both points per game (15.7, 13), field-goal percentage (56.7%, 50.5%) and rebounds (10.1, 7.4). This by no means suggests any inconsistency from Odom as Odom has been their most consistent player all season. It also shows that Odom will be able to fill the starter's role during Bynum's suspension. But it also raises question on how the rest of the bench will respond without him. Steve Blake and Shannon Brown combined for an eight of 11 clip Friday against Minnesota, but Brown has shot below 50% in five of the eight games in March while Blake has gone under 50% in six of those contests. Meanwhile, Matt Barnes took a step forward, scoring nine points against Minnesota after having nondescript efforts in his previous five games since returning from a right knee injury. But the reserves haven't shown a consistent pattern they can manager Bynum's absence.
5. The incident itself will have positive long-term implications.A two-game suspension is a little harsh, a one-game suspension is appropriate and the Lakers' insistence that Bynum committed nothing more than a hard foul overlooks what actually happened. I don't fault the Lakers for saying that. They're supporting Bynum after all. But the fact that Bynum forearmed him showed clear intent that he was trying to hurt Beasley, an incident that clearly showed Bynum was overwhelmed with frustration. There's a fine line between playing tough and acting off emotions. For example, Ron Artest's tussling with Paul Pierce in Game 1 of the 2010 NBA Finals helped set the tone, while his never-ending trash talking on Michael Beasley distracted his focus.
Even if Bynum's foul wasn't appropriate, it will undoubtedly have a positive effect on the Lakers. They responded after his foul with a 18-9 run in the final 6:16 to secure a victory, feeding off the team's emotions and the crowd's energy. The team will likely amp up their support for Bynum in the next few days, touting the progress he's made on the glass and on defense since the All-Star break, standing up for him in what they consider an ill-advised suspension and using his absence as a rallying cry for everyone else to sharpen their play.
It will also create more of a dialogue among coaches, players and the media alike on what exactly constitutes a hard foul. The Lakers have hoped for a while for Bynum to develop more of an edge and show toughness, and there's no doubt he'll gain more confidence after laying out Beasley. It's the exact mentality the Lakers need for the postseason so long as they play with that physicality from a tactical standpoint than one solely based on emotions.
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Photo: Lakers center Andrew Bynum tries to put up a shot while being guarded by center Darko Milicic and guard Wesley Johnson during the first half of the Lakers' 106-98 victory Friday at Staples Center. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times