Bynum practices without pain
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Andrew Bynum had another pain-free practice on Saturday and the center's insertion back into the starting lineup for Game 1 of the Lakers first-round series against Oklahoma City on Sunday could have a trickle-down effect for the rest of the team.
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"It helps everybody," Derek Fisher said. "It not only helps guys in our front court, but it helps our perimeter guys."
The immediate impact of his 7-foot, 285-pound body will be felt in the paint and rightfully so. With Bynum at center and fellow 7-footer Pau Gasol at power forward, the Lakers have a significant size advantage over the Thunder's frontline of the 6-foot-9 Jeff Green and 7-foot, but perimeter oriented, Nenad Krstic.
"We're definitely going to attack the team on the inside," Bynum said, in good spirits after there were no signs of swelling around his left Achilles tendon that kept him sidelined for the last 13 games of the season. "We're going to try to slow them down as much as possible and the best way to do that is to score layups and then have an opportunity to get back down the floor [on defense]."
If Bynum and Gasol are scoring down low, the Lakers will be taking less perimeter jump shots. Less perimeter jump shots mean less misses resulting in long rebounds. Less long rebounds mean less opportunities for the fast-breaking Thunder to get out in transition and create easy scoring chances.
Having Bynum back also means that Lamar Odom will resume his role of the Lakers' sixth man and help fortify a second-unit that has been second-rate as of late.
"[Odom] will help [the bench] out," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "He's a terrific ballplayer in all situations and Lamar's presence on the floor will help them defensively, rebounding, running the ball up the court and I think organizing the floor. Those things are good."
That's not the only byproduct of Bynum's return. Having Bynum back puts Kobe Bryant, who is making a comeback of his own after sitting out four of the Lakers final five games to rest various ailments, into a better position on the floor to succeed.
"Without Andrew on the floor, the lineup changes [and] Kobe plays more of a wing than he does a guard," Jackson said. "With Andrew back, it's almost a remedy that Kobe spends a lot more time facing the basket."
After missing nearly a month of game action, the 22-year-old big man won't be completely back to form come Sunday. Bynum said he still has to work on conditioning, timing and the mental hurdle of looking around to make sure no one is underneath him when he makes a play so that he doesn't land awkwardly and reinjure his Achilles.
"I think I definitely can make it through my regular minutes, maybe not as effectively, but I'll be able to make it through," Bynum said, hoping to play somewhere in the neighborhood of the career-high 30.4 minutes per game he played this year. Jackson set the bar a little lower.
"I hope we can get a good eight-minute run out of him to start the game," Jackson said. "I think that really would be optimal and we'll see where it goes from there."
Still, the team seems optimistic they'll be getting back a Bynum that's closer to the guy that averaged 15.0 points and 8.3 rebounds this season than the guy that struggled through last year's playoff run only averaging 6.3 points and 3.7 rebounds after rejoining the team late in the season following another injury.
"This is a real different young man than he was last year," Jackson said. "This year he's had a real veteran kind of year. He's got a lot of experience, he knows what's going on out on the floor. He knows what he can do. He knows what he can't do also. So I think he will play within his capabilities."
Jackson added that the Lakers looked like "they had a lot of things back in order," on Saturday, further demonstrating how Bynum's mere presence organizes the players back into their accustomed roles.
"He's extremely important to what we do," Fisher said. "I know over the past few years with his injuries and his ins and outs, people have at times been unsure about his importance to our team, but I think in his absence in the last few weeks, you've see a lot of things that show up when Andrew's not out there. We're definitely glad to have him back and obviously, the key is for him to stay out there. That's what we want to happen."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.