- J.A. Adande, ESPN Senior Writer
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LOS ANGELES --- Andrew Bynum is starting to get it, but not getting it enough to recognize that scoring 15 points against Tim Duncan on Sunday was a better performance than scoring 42 points against a decimated Clippers front line, or dropping 23 points in 27 minutes against a youthful Washington Wizards squad.
Those other two games had nothing to do with the playoffs, which are all that matters in the NBA. This looked more like a postseason possibility, and if Bynum can play Duncan to a 15-15 standstill while managing to help out on Tony Parker as well, and if Manu Ginobili is going to be this erratic, then the series would be a short one. Back on their home court and back at full strength, with Jordan Farmar's surprisingly early return from a knee injury completing the restoration of the full roster they lacked in a narrow Spurs victory at San Antonio on Jan. 14, the Lakers pulled away in the second half for a 99-85 victory.
Bynum was in the middle of it all. He had 11 rebounds and four blocked shots. He guarded Duncan one-on-one and held his own. He made 7 of 8 free throws to pick up his points on a day his field goal attempts weren't falling (4-for-10). The only thing he didn't do was acknowledge this was the best game of his recent run of double-doubles.
"I still think I went out there and played better the other two nights because my field goal percentage was better," Bynum said.
"My career high in points, that was a real special game for me," he added later.
Well, he is only 21 years old. Sometimes young people lack perspective. They think Jay-Z's "The Blueprint" was a better album than Public Enemy's "It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back." They think dunk-fests and scoring sprees are better than defensive lock-downs.
At least Bynum is a young man with a fast learning curve. He heard the criticism he received for totaling 12 rebounds in three games (including a 20-3 rebounding clinic at the hands of Dwight Howard) and responded with games of 15, 14 and 11 rebounds.
Phil Jackson didn't do too much celebrating on Bynum's 42-point night, reminding the media that "there's two ends of the game." Not wanting to completely ruin Bynum's party, Jackson didn't bother to remind him that his counterpart, Clippers rookie DeAndre Jordan, set his own career high with 23 points that night.
"I didn't want to take it down," Jackson said after he emerged from the locker room. "I just let it sit there. I think he'll know."
Bynum gets it. You don't have to project him into the Hall of Fame yet, but you do have to expect him to continue to improve based on what we've seen so far.
At the start of the season, he didn't pick up where he left off when he was injured last season, although that didn't keep the Lakers from signing him to an extension that guarantees Bynum $42 million. Big money and little progress is the leading cause of agitation among fans. Ironically, it's the older people who need to have patience when it comes to Bynum.
"Andrew's an enigmatic person," Jackson said. "He doesn't show a lot of emotion. But he does get to work. He's a guy that's learning how to be a pro. He's learned that over the last year. He's learned how to work hard and improve."
It was evident in his shot-blocking Sunday. Recently he had been looking a step behind, cursed with bad timing, swatting away in futility after the ball sailed by. On Sunday he was on time like the Switzerland railway against the Spurs.
"That's a tribute to Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar] working with me and just talking to me," Bynum said. "Watching film with me, telling me where I should have been on a particular play versus where I was. Just learning when guys are gonna shoot. Sometimes I'm kind of stuck in between, I don't know whether to go to him or stay in my role. Today I kind of baited Tony [Parker] into taking the shot."
That provided a small answer for the pick-and-roll problem posed by Parker, on one play managing to stick close enough to Duncan to discourage a pass, then leaving in time to block Duncan's shot. He followed Parker down the lane and blocked a layup from behind. He altered a Ginobili shot, blocked a Duncan layup and even knocked down a Duncan jumper.
If Bynum was every bit the defensive presence of Duncan on Sunday, he also displayed a touch of Duncan stoicism. That's in character. He never screams out, "Don't you realize I didn't go to college and have barely played 200 NBA games?" He doesn't seem exceptionally happy when things go well.
"That's the way I'm supposed to play," Bynum said. "If I go out there and I play hard and good things happen and I put the extra work in, that's what's supposed to happen. That's what the Lakers drafted me for and paid me for."
Now if he can only realize that if he plays more games like this, and doesn't rack up a string of 40-point nights, the Lakers will feel they've gotten their money's worth.
J.A. Adande joined ESPN.com as an NBA columnist in August 2007 after 10 years with the Los Angeles Times. Click here to e-mail J.A.
The Lakers' Andrew Bynum played the Spurs' Tim Duncan to a standstill on Sunday, writes J.A. Adande.