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This is what Lakers fans hope to see from Andrew Bynum tonight against the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Even Lakers fans with the most eternal sunshine lodged in their spotless minds would concede that December hasn't been a particularly kind month for Andrew Bynum. His 13 ppg dips below his seasonal average (16), but even more dramatic has been the rebounding drop off. It's hard to imagine an All-Star caliber center (or just a tall one) grabbing only 5.4 per game, but those are Drew's numbers for 2009's final month. Toss in an DQ in eleven minutes against New Jersey and frequently lethargic, often defeated body language and it's easy to grow concerned about Bynum, who's struggling to find his place since the Nov. 19 return of Pau Gasol. Some signs of life were recently exhibited against Detroit, but all in all, it's been tough sledding.
In theory, a date with the Oklahoma City Thunder is just the ticket to snap Drew out of this rut. In two previous meetings this season, Bynum has destroyed OKC, averaging 23.5 points on a redunkulous 73.5% clip from the field, with nine rebounds snagged for good measure. Jeff Green will have his hands full guarding Gasol, which will leave Nenad Krstic often isolated in his attempt to slow AB17. Yeah, that's not gonna work. So why the "in theory" caveat? Because once Krstic gets into foul trouble, Thunder coach Scotty Brooks will send in Etan Thomas, the polar opposite of the spindlier Krstic. Thomas is a banger (and published poet, if that somehow aids Drew's scouting report) who takes no possessions off and has the strength to make Bynum work under the basket. When the two met at Staples on Nov.22, it was pretty much "Advantage Bynum," but the Lakers' Nov. 3 game in Steer Country saw Bynum's effectiveness and ability to get good position dramatically altered whenever Thomas checked him. ET's energy is also never an issue, which may provide Bynum (and fans) with a roundabout favor: a barometer to measure progress in defeating this slump.
Forget the points against Krstic, because he's defensively challenged against most centers. Instead, note how dialed in Drew remains stepping outside the paint where the Serbian big likes to shoot. And when Thomas and Bynum are positioned to grab a rebound, keep on eye on who wins the battle, but even more importantly, the effort expended if Drew loses. Should he get beaten while putting up a good fight, so be it. But if the energy is an issue while Thomas out-eats his glass, Laker fans will be left to wonder what's wrong.
Four more items to keep an eye on during Lakers vs. Thunder:
Kevin Durant recently pulled himself out of contention for the Slam Dunk contest, labeling himself nothing more than a "regular dunker." Well, against the Lakers, the scoring machine (27.2 ppg, NBA-4th) has been kind of a "regular" baller, too. 23.5 ppg is hardly an embarrassment, but it's also hardly efficient, requiring 22 shots and coming in at a less than stellar 41% clip (rounding up). Much of the credit goes to Ron Artest, who takes the budding superstar out of his comfort zone by going all "Bluto" (this one, not this one) on the kid. Artest's size, strength and ability to body wings leaves Durant often denied the ball in ideal spots and rarely with an easy time operating the floor. Between Ron-Ron and the seven footers patrolling the Laker lane (Bynum, Gasol, Lamar Odom), it's no coincidence that Durant's launching 6.5 three ball attempts against the Lakers, two above his average and the highest against any team he's played twice or more. The Lakers will take that all day, especially if KD continues to miss about 85% of them.
The Laker Nation's opinion of Derek Fisher run all over the place. Some folks focus on his inability to stick the league's water bug point guards like Aaron Brooks and Chris Paul (granted, nobody really can, but that's beside the point) and occasionally baffling shot selection in transition or... gulp... driving the lane. Others choose to champion his clutch shots and overall grit. Thunder coach Scotty Brooks is a member of the latter camp, and after watching Fish work against budding star Russell Westbrook, who can blame the guy? Fish may be 35 and Westbrook now just able to legally sip cocktails, but the newbie's struggled mightily against the vet, shooting just 38% and averaging six turnover against seven assists. Pretty consistent with the results compiled once The Daily Thunder broke down the point guard's splits in wins vs. losses (stifle RW and OKC's works are pretty gummed up) and proof positive of why Brooks raved about Fisher after the Lakers' win in L.A: "Derek Fisher never gets enough credit. The guy is a star. He battles and competes. I admire his play every year since he's been in this league," he said. "If you want your son to be a point guard, they should look at his tape and be committed to what he does. He plays for the team, and that's what you expect from a point guard at that level. He's an amazing player."
This season's first showdown featured a grand total of 26 Lakers turnovers, which were converted into 23 points for the Thunder. In the followup, they limited the gaffes to single digits (9). I trust you're all bright enough to figure out which contest required OT for the eventual 101-98 Laker win and which one was a 101-85 laugher. OKC's young,long, athletic crew don't lack for ability at forcing turnovers (15.8 per game, NBA-7th), and the squeaker win demonstrated how pie can be baked from them apples. Taking care of the ball is a must.
It's not Sunday, but it could nonetheless be "Fun Day." The Nov. 22 Staples showdown featured a ridiculous H.O.R.S.E. shot from Kobe, an act of God-like elevation from Shannon Brown and an impromptu in-game concert from the Black Eyed Peas. Without the AMA's happening across the street, it's hard to picture Fergie and the gang showing up for another performance (although it's a given that "I got a feeling" will blast somewhere between 1-100 times over the course of the game, so junkies for played out, lame pop songs need not worry). But can the other two items be topped? Well, that's up to the evening's hosts, and I'm looking for a a play as head-spinning as this one by my man Bo Jackson, because that likely signals a game controlled by the Lakers. Oh yeah, the "challenge" flag was just thrown. Were a scribe back in 1991 and typing this while gazing at a flannel tied around my waist, I'd tell the Lakers to "entertain us," then give myself a smug pat on the back for referencing a genre with absolutely zero chance of getting scooped up by the music industry and shoved into the "alternative" umbrella. Never gonna happen.
I wonder what ever became of that janitor from that video.