For all the differences between the 2007-08 Lakers, the 08-09 Lakers, and this year’s Laker squad, one thing remains the same: The Lakers are hoping that they can get a significant contribution from Andrew Bynum, but aren’t sure he’ll be healthy enough to make one.
Bynum missed the 2008 NBA Finals due to knee surgery, and was severely limited by injuries in last year’s finals, averaging only six points a game against the Magic. Bynum was finally supposed to be healthy for this playoff run, and has had games where’s he’s looked like the great young center the Lakers know he can be. Unfortunately, those games have been exceptions, and for most of the playoffs Bynum has looked hobbled by his latest knee injury, a slight meniscus tear suffered in game six of the Lakers’ first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Bynum recently had a kiddie pool taken out of his knee, and the Lakers hope that the knee-draining procedure will be half as effective for Bynum as it was for Kobe Bryant, who has been an absolute house of fire since getting his own knee drained.
If Bynum can actually come back from this injury and play at anywhere near a 100% level during the Finals, the dividends would be immediate and significant for the Lakers. Kobe and Rondo may be the best two players in this series, but the games will likely be decided by which team wins the frontcourt battle. If Bynum is healthy enough to force Perkins to pay attention to him on defense, Gasol gets the kind of room to operate he didn’t have in the 2008 finals, when Gasol didn’t have a single 20-point game in the series.
If he isn’t, Kendrick Perkins gets to guard Gasol in the post, and KG switches onto Lamar Odom. If the way KG destroyed Antawn Jamison and Rashard Lewis over the course of these playoffs has taught us anything, it’s that KG absolutely destroys fast, undersized fours. The Lakers need to make Perkins and Garnett pay attention to their man, because if one of them is free to rotate and give help on defense, the paint gets shut down.
If Bynum is healthy, that means more offensive rebounds for the Lakers and fewer missed three-pointers, since the Lakers will be getting more shots in the paint. The Lakers already do a great job of limiting their turnovers; if they can get some offensive boards and cut down on threes that lead to long rebounds, they could keep Rajon Rondo from getting out in transition.
When Bynum doesn’t play well, the Laker offense is fantastic when the ball is moving and the shots are falling, and mediocre on off-nights. When Bynum does play well, the Lakers absolutely own the paint on offense, and can destroy teams even when they aren’t doing the right things on offense: look at what they did to the Jazz in game two of that series, when the Lakers cruised to a win despite turning the ball over twice as much as the Jazz did, taking less shots in the paint, and going 4-17 from beyond the arc. I was there. It was intimidating.
It’s no secret that Boston wants to get physical with the Lakers and try to do to them what they did in 2008. It may be a pipe dream, but if Bynum can actually play through his injuries and make an impact in this series, the Lakers are more than capable of beating the Celtics at their own game.