Bynum must stand tall going forward
LOS ANGELES — The Lakers didn’t beat Denver in the first round of these NBA playoffs as much as they survived the Nuggets.
A series that they led 2-0 and 3-1 and felt so much like six games instead went the full seven, the conclusion not coming Saturday until the closing minutes of a 96-87 victory.
Now arrives round two and the Oklahoma City Thunder and now, more than ever, the Lakers need their wild card to be an ace.
They need Andrew Bynum, the one Laker who isn’t Kobe Bryant — the only Laker who isn’t Kobe Bryant — who can decide a game by himself.
They can’t count on five 3-pointers from Steve Blake again. Can’t count on the Thunder wasting late panicked possessions like the Nuggets did. Can’t expect Pau Gasol to keep playing like a reborn Pogo stick.
They need Bynum and need him to be more of an offensive force. Consider that he finished this game with 16 points and 18 rebounds and you understand just how much they need from him. He was very good, yes. But he’ll have to be that much better.
As much as Bynum’s highlights against the Nuggets were celebrated, they’ll blow up even more now. As much as his lapses were magnified, they’ll swell into national headlines going forward.
Bynum was 1 for 6 from the floor in the decisive third and fourth quarters Saturday, the scoring of Blake, Gasol and even Metta World Peace filling the gaps left by Bynum and Bryant.
At 24 and a legit NBA veteran, Bynum’s behavior suggests a young man who has developed as a player much quicker than he has as a person. The day he entered the league in 2005, Bynum was the NBA’s youngest player. In some ways, approaching seven years later, he still is.
Before Game 7, Bryant embraced the suspension return of World Peace, calling him “the one guy that I can rely on.” And that, folks, is all you need to know about these Lakers and their young All-Star center. Metta World Peace is the reliable one.
Bynum always has wanted more here. Now, he has a chance to go get it.
Remember how much he watched — because of injuries or ineffectiveness — as the Lakers won two championships and reached a third finals? When his desires still go unfulfilled today, when things don’t go his way, Bynum does what a child would do — he acts out.
He disengages from the game and from the team. He cheap-shots opponents. He says things publicly that — although often both honest and true — should be kept private.
Bynum reads, is a noted computer geek and has belonged to chess clubs. And yet, his behavior is that of someone with a view awfully narrow.
Whether or not the description is correct, it is certainly accurate to label Bynum a diva.
The Lakers have been here before and kept it together all the way until lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy. Former — and perhaps future — Laker Lamar Odom pulled a diva act for the record books this season. Like Bynum, he can swing from dominant to disinterested in the span of a 20-second timeout.
The difference, though, is that these Lakers need Bynum — absolutely must have his production and his presence now — in order to continue advancing. There were times during his tenure with the Lakers that Odom’s contributions were more of a bonus.
More than once this season, Mike Brown has been asked about the frustration that comes when coaching a player like Bynum. Strange, but that remains the reality despite Bynum being talented and gifted enough to average a double-double almost by accident.
This series was a study in the continued sputtering evolution of a player who evolved more in 2011-12 than any NBA All-Star in recent memory. And yet, it’s not like Bynum statistically was a failure. He just averaged 16.7 points and 12.3 rebounds against Denver.
The problem was the drop off — in concentration and dedication — from Game 1, when Bynum had a triple-double that included a franchise-record 10 blocks.
But now, the Lakers have survived. Bynum was very good, yes. But he’ll have to be that much better.
The last time the Lakers and Thunder played — at Staples Center, on April 22 — Bynum was limited to 29 minutes because his focus wandered again. Brown determined his team was better in the fourth quarter and a pair of overtimes with Jordan Hill rather than Bynum on the court. The Lakers won that game.
That is not, however, how they can beat Oklahoma City in a seven-game series. They’re going to need Bynum being in the game this time. And they’re really going to need him being into the game, too.
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