Injuries don't get in Lakers' way
Bynum is the latest to fight through an ailment, but that has become a mark of this team
LOS ANGELES -- It hurts Andrew Bynum to jump. And to land. And to cut.
It hurts him so much he had Pau Gasol take the opening tip in his place for the second straight game to save him at least one instance of the sharp pain that follows any leap as his tibia peeks out of the torn meniscus in his right knee and clangs against his femur.
But once the ball officially bounced into play Tuesday, he ignored the black brace that covers his knee -- and goes so far down his right leg it looks as if he has on a pair of Capri pants under his shorts -- and he dominated.
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Dominated to the tune of 17 points, a career-playoff high 14 rebounds and four blocks in the Los Angeles Lakers' 111-103 win over the Utah Jazz, making it a 2-0 series lead for L.A. heading back to Utah for Game 3 on Saturday, and six wins in eight games to start the playoffs (after the Lakers finished the season by losing seven of their last 11).
"He was a huge factor," Utah coach Jerry Sloan said, shocked that this was the same Bynum who limped to averages of just 6.3 points and 3.7 rebounds in last year's playoffs while coming off another knee injury. "He's made himself a better player, and I admire that about him."
He finished 7-of-9 from the field, dunking the ball twice in the first half even though the pain was going to shoot through his bones when he came back down. But why play if you're not going to play all-out?
With Utah's Paul Millsap behind him and C.J. Miles in front of him, Bynum sandwiched skyward through the two of them to grab a third-quarter rebound. Why not fight for that impossible board if you're going to suit up?
He made the proper adjustments to still be effective.
"I just felt he took a little more time, had a better base on his shots tonight than he did on Sunday," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "I think he felt a little more comfortable dealing with what he has to deal with and play."
Said Bynum: "I can't really do anything to avoid [the pain], but I'm just playing. I'm not focusing on it. I just keep moving."
It's easy to say the difference in the Lakers has been all about Bynum. He missed the last 13 games of the regular season because of a strained left Achilles tendon and the Lakers floundered, and now that he's back the Lakers look right again.
But what Bynum is doing doesn't make him any more of a warrior than his teammates. There are two requirements for being a Laker these days: be willing to wear yellow and play through whatever pain is ailing you.
"I think the thing with the injuries is everybody kind of looks at each other and tries to figure out which one is going to be the first punk," Kobe Bryant said. "Because we will talk about you like a dog, like a chump. So nobody wants to be a chump."
The Lakers might not win the championship this season, but they've committed to making sure that if that happens, it will be because of execution and not injuries.
This Lakers team, which is vying for a third Finals appearance in three years, doesn't have a nickname yet like Showtime in the '80s or the Lake Show in the early '00s. How about the Injury Ignorers?
If the Lakers all listened to what their bodies were telling them, the din would be so loud they wouldn't be able to hear Jackson bark out instructions from the sidelines.
Jazz all-purpose forward Andrei Kirilenko, whom Bryant complimented for his ability to be all over the court when he plays, sat in the same spot at the end of the bench throughout Game 2, choosing not to play with his strained left calf even though he felt good enough to practice Monday.
Meanwhile, Bryant squeezed whatever he could out of his sore left ankle, arthritic right index finger and unreliable right knee -- a knee so bad that in Games 3 and 4 in the the first round against the Thunder, he said felt as if he were playing on one leg.
It's the same reason Lamar Odom demanded it of himself not to miss a game after he practically pulled his left shoulder out of its socket after a dunk against Boston in February.
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It's the same reason Shannon Brown took the tape off his sprained right thumb before Game 6 in Oklahoma City, even though a week earlier he said the thumb still hurt so much he could barely use it.
It's the same reason Ron Artest goes out wearing what looks like a set of football pads over his left shoulder.
"That's fun," Artest said about the challenge of playing hurt.
"I'm never going to complain about an injury. ... I got a [bad] shoulder, I got [hurt] two fingers ... three, four, five ... five fingers hurting," Artest continued as he counted his mangled digits. "You got to take the injuries with the games and still have fun out there. No excuses. ... It's fun to play injured, it's fun to play tired. That's when you know kind of what you're made of."
It's not just Bynum, Bryant, Odom and Artest, either. After 98 games between the preseason, regular season and postseason, just about everyone on the Lakers' roster has some little nick (DJ Mbenga's left eye) or issue (Luke Walton's back) he is playing through.
"We're all in [the training room] getting treatment," Bynum said. "Practice is actually kind of tough to do with the amount of guys we have, but we get it done."
By a quirk in the NBA's playoff scheduling, the Lakers will have three full days off before Game 3 in Salt Lake City. Plenty of time for Bynum to undergo his regimen of "a lot of inflammatories, a lot of [electric] stimulation, laser, everything to try to pump the swelling out."
It's not enough time to recover, but it is enough time to rest and continue the game of chump-chicken that is just as important to the Lakers' success as the actual postseason games themselves.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.