Andrew Bynum's knee brace not just holding up his knee but also hopes of keeping injury at bay
He had just tangled with Hornets forward Carl Landry and was wincing in pain. The Lakers and their fans have witnessed this scene before and dread it because it cements the feeling that any sign of Bynum emerging as a dominant center will always be fleeting.
But after staying on the floor for a minute, Bynum got up on his own and remained in the game. The Lakers' 100-86 Game 3 victory Friday raised hopes that the defending champions were in playoff form. It also allowed fans a moment of relief about the state of Bynum's knee. And the credit goes to Bynum's knee brace.
He's been wearing the black 18-inch contraption since he returned to the lineup after missing the first 24 games of the season while rehabbing from offseason surgery. The device, with its metal, padding and Velcro, has proved instrumental in keeping him in the game. Bynum's renewed focus on defense, which led the Lakers to a 17-1 mark after the All-Star break and his 17-point, 11-rebound performance in the Lakers' 87-78 Game 2 victory over New Orleans, wouldn't have happened if not for the brace.
It seems to have eased the psychological burden, allowing Bynum to play at full intensity without worrying so much about the risk of further injury -- one more way for him to maintain a positive outlook. Also helping on the positive-outlook front: talks with sports psychologist George Mumford, and Bynum is reading the book "The New Psycho-Cybernetics," which stresses positive thinking and tells how to achieve goals faster with more efficiency.
The brace is helping to stave off further significant injury. And Bynum's had some injuries to deal with: He missed 46 games in the 2007-08 season because of a left-knee injury, 32 games in the 2008-09 season because of a right-knee injury, 13 games last season because of a strained left Achilles' tendon and was limited during the 2010 NBA playoffs because of a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee.
There are more examples, though, of the effectiveness of the brace. Bynum hyperextended his right knee in the Lakers' 102-93 victory April 12 against the San Antonio Spurs after losing his balance, an injury that turned out to be a bone bruise and caused him to sit out the Lakers' season finale. Had Bynum not worn the brace, it's conceivable there would've been more pain, swelling and soreness on the knee, resulting in a prolonged absence. The same could've happened only a week earlier. In the Lakers' 99-95 loss April 3 to the Denver Nuggets, Bynum collided knees with Lakers forward Lamar Odom in the fourth quarter, a play that prompted Jackson to remove him for the final 7:15 as a precaution. The play appeared eerily similar to the one two years ago when Kobe Bryant knocked into Bynum's knee, causing a torn medial collateral ligament.
But this time Bynum was wearing the brace.
"It's crazy," Bynum said a day after the Lakers' loss to the Nuggets. "I had the brace on. That's what saved it."
Bynum's come to realize it's saved his knee plenty of times, but just like Laker fans, he's also refusing to hold his breath. "I have to make it out of the first round," Bynum told reporters Thursday before the Lakers left for New Orleans. But in the meantime, he can come to rely on that 18 inches of metal, padding and Velcro to keep him on the court and away from the sidelines.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers center Andrew Bynum powers down a dunk against Hornets center Emeka Okafor in the first half of Game 3, April 22, 2011, in New Orleans. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times