EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Not many 7-foot-tall people can be described as unobtrusive, yet Andrew Bynum sometimes has a knack for blending into the scenery. Wearing street clothes and speaking in his soft voice, he's fairly close to unremarkable while his fellow Los Angeles Lakers finish up an easy workout during their long week off.
Bynum has no idea how visible he'll be in the Western Conference finals against the Phoenix Suns, whose small lineups and fast-paced game run counter to most of the advantages in Bynum's size and strength. He realizes he could spend much of the series on the bench, which might hurt his pride, but help the torn meniscus in his right knee.
"I just need to be a little more active, which is tough with the knee, but I think I can get it done," Bynum said Wednesday. "I just have to take advantage of early opportunities. That's all I can really do. In the half-court set, they're going to be fronting [me] ... but if I get down the court before all that happens, I get myself into the game, I get myself going."
The center who entered the league as a teenage target of Kobe Bryant's ridicule has grown into an effective low-post scorer and defender, still with room to improve. Bynum did some of the best work of his career early in the regular season, leading to brief talk of an All-Star candidacy.
Yet Bynum knows he also has a tendency to disappear in games, playing passively on offense and moving too slowly on defense. He also knows he's injury-prone, currently struggling with his knee problem after missing the final 13 games of the regular season with a strained left Achilles tendon.
"When he goes after it, he's one of the best centers in the league," forward Lamar Odom said. "He's really done a good job since he came back. He's doing what we need him to do, finishing around the basket and making it tough for teams to get easy shots in the paint."
Bynum and the Lakers are making the most of six days off between their second-round sweep of the Utah Jazz and Game 1 of the conference finals at Staples Center on Monday night. Los Angeles didn't practice Tuesday or Thursday, but has plenty of time to scheme ways to negate third-seeded Phoenix's strengths.
One way could put the spotlight again on fellow 7-footer Pau Gasol and Bynum: The Lakers' height sometimes overwhelmed the Jazz, and Phoenix's low-post defense isn't thought to be much more rugged. Coach Phil Jackson has tried to force the ball down low against the Suns for most of the past half-decade, even in back-to-back playoff losses to Phoenix in 2006 and 2007.
Yet Bynum flits in and out of effectiveness for reasons that seem to have little to do with opposing defenses: After playing well in the first two games in Los Angeles, he was nearly invisible in Salt Lake City. In Game 3 last week, Bynum took one shot and had four rebounds in 21 minutes, saying afterward that he didn't really remember anything about the game.
Jackson has grown familiar with Bynum's inconsistency, but he believes there's a medical background behind it this time.
"Drew has played through some of the discomfort and limitedness of his injury," Jackson said. "And then in Utah, he couldn't quite get back to the point where he could play with the explosiveness and aggression of the last two games. We hope he gets it back."
Bynum is unusually frank about his shortcomings, and knows his knee injury is going to limit him for a while.
"I have the opportunity to get the swelling out [with days off], but it's just going to come back until I have the surgery," Bynum said.
Bynum considered getting his knee fixed a couple of weeks ago, and many players would have chosen that route. But Bynum decided he couldn't afford to risk it.
"Rehab, you don't know how long it's going to take," Bynum said. "It's cool if they say two weeks, but if it takes three and four [weeks], you miss the playoffs, and then everybody is looking at you like you're crazy. ... I feel like I have to [play]. This is the best I've felt going into the playoffs, and I don't want to waste that.
"I feel good. I'm out here, I'm contributing," Bynum said. "This is what I want to do. I wouldn't want to miss it."