Plagued by early jitters and quick whistled officials, Andrew Bynum helped power the Los Angeles Lakers in the second half to a 116-102 Staples Center victory over the Denver Nuggets. Bynum, making his long awaited debut following the torn MCL he suffered on January 31, went 6-8 in the second half and finished with 16 points and 7 rebounds in 21 minutes. He received a rousing standing ovation when he was introduced as part of the starting line-up. The crowd watched and waited, almost apologetically so for Bynum to get untracked. And they finally got their chance to cheer in the 3rd quarter when he started posting deep within the paint and utilized his size and strength over the smaller Nuggets defenders. Bynum converted on easy baskets close to the hoop, effectively sealing his defender from challenging his shot. A familiar offensive rebound and subsequent quick slam dunk, plus the foul, provided Lakers fans with renewed confidence heading into the playoffs.
Benefiting from his fellow 7-footer’s presence, Pau Gasol scored at will amassing 27 points and a career high 19 rebounds (11 offensive) in a reduced 38 minutes of play. Kobe Bryant led all scorers with 33 points (11-19) and hard nosed defense on the Denver guards. Kobe now sits 1 point behind Charles Barkley for 17th place on the all-time career scoring list. Pressed back into action off the bench, Lamar Odom contributed 7 points, 9 rebounds and 4 assists. Sasha Vujacic rounded out the box score with 9 points, 3 rebounds and 3 steals. The Lakers committed only 11 turnovers and out-rebounded the Nuggets 51-46. The Nuggets were paced by Carmelo Anthony with 23 points, JR Smith with 19 points off the bench, Nene with 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Chauncey Billups with 17 points and 8 assists. Linas Kleiza added 12 points and 9 rebounds to bolster Denver’s bench, who managed to outscore the Lakers Bench Mob, 37-31.
Picking up 2 early fouls in the 1st quarter, Phil Jackson summoned Shannon Brown to replace Derek Fisher. Brown responded by playing under control and provided a spark on defense by applying pressure on Billups. Jordan Farmar, still trying to regain his shooting touch that has gone amiss since he went down with his knee injury, played an efficient 14 minutes dishing off for 3 assists. But he clearly could not match up with Billups size and superior strength down on the block. Brown, at 6′-4″ and 211 pounds, matched up better and was able to hold his ground. With his recent increase in playing time, Brown may prove to be the defensive stopper that the Lakers will need against the bigger guards that they will face in the Western Conference playoffs.
Tomorrow night, the Lakers visit the Portland Trailblazers at the Rose Garden in a back-to-back scenario. Phil Jackson will not accompany the team, staying back to mend his recent bout with plantar fasciitis. Taking the helm will be Assistant Coach, Kurt Rambis. It will be interesting to see how well Andrew Bynum responds in his second outing. This contest though, will be under hostile conditions and with little rest. But if he can manage to put up numbers like he did tonight, the Lakers should do well. The entire dynamics of the team change drastically with Bynum occupying the middle. Both Pau and Kobe have more room to operate against single coverage, and with their superior skills, the 2nd seeded team in the West had no answers on how to stop them tonight. Timing and reaction to the ball are still steps away for Bynum, but with 3 games remaining in the regular season to get back up to speed, there is reason for joy in Lakerstown tonight.