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Thursday, April 5, 2012
Andrew Bynum will be key for Lakers

By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- All of the Lob City hysteria to start the season failed to take into consideration Andrew Bynum lording over its residents.

The Los Angeles Lakers beat their Staples Center cohabitants, the Los Angeles Clippers, on Wednesday 113-108, taking the season series 2-1 in the process. Leading the way for the Lakers was Bynum, with 36 points on 13-for-20 shooting from the field and 10-for-12 from the free throw line, eight rebounds and four blocks.

The same Bynum who found himself in the center of a media storm this week when it came to light that the Lakers had grown tired of mounting issues involving the first-time All-Star, fining Bynum in an effort to curtail his sophomoric behavior.

Andrew Bynum
Coming off an injured ankle, Andrew Bynum went off for 36 points Wednesday in the Lakers' victory over the Clippers.

Bynum had his questionable moments against the Clippers. It wasn't as if he returned to work after missing Tuesday's game against the New Jersey Nets because of a sprained left ankle with his hat in hand and his ego checked at the door.

When approached by a pack of reporters before the game who wanted to know whether he would be playing, he first answered that he was unsure and, when the questioning continued, shut down and looked at his feet as he informed the crowd he doesn't speak before games.

He was fouled by Blake Griffin in the second half and stayed sprawled out on the floor in dramatic fashion, making a spectacle of the play in the same fashion he made a spectacle out of being ejected in Houston by slapping high-fives with courtside fans instead of promptly leaving the court.

Then there's the shot of Bynum's cartoon-like face freeze-framed the moment after Griffin dunked powerfully on Pau Gasol. It was being passed around on Twitter, almost begging to become the latest Internet meme.

And, just as he vowed to do in Golden State last week when he was benched for taking a 3-pointer, Bynum did indeed launch a 3 at the end of the third quarter after receiving a long outlet pass and dribbling out to the corner.

"I wanted to shoot a 3, that was a perfect time," Bynum said after the game.

When Lakers coach Mike Brown was asked about the shot he said matter-of-factly: "It was at the end of the third."

In other words, "It is what it is."

That might be one of the most clichéd answers uttered in NBA locker rooms these days, but it applies to the Bynum the Lakers are rolling with these days.

He's going to do some things to make you shake your head. But he's also going to do plenty more things to make you stand and cheer.

He had 19 of his points in the second half and all four of his blocks, including one on the perimeter against Chris Paul that sparked a fast break for the Lakers.

"I thought he battled the whole night," Brown said. "I thought he played very good basketball."

While it might seem like Bynum is becoming an unmanageable problem child, the fact of the matter is he still has a desire to be great, both individually and as part of a team. And so Bynum, warts and all, is the most important piece of the Lakers' championship hopes this season.

Bynum, who missed an average of 31 games a year the last four seasons because of various injuries, responded to the one game he missed this season because of injury with perhaps his best effort in 2012.

"Playing through injuries is part of the business," said Bynum, who explained that he spent 12 hours receiving treatment on his ankle in the last two days to be ready to suit up and was still experiencing soreness in the joint. "I had to miss one game and that sucked, but tonight was an important game because we were battling for playoff position, so I wanted to play."

Kobe Bryant, who scored 31 points and hobbled out of the arena in a walking boot after playing through his latest wound -- a left shin bruise -- chided Bynum for missing even one game.

"He's well-rested," Bryant said. "He had a day off."

But ultimately, just like Bryant supported Bynum after his 3-pointer in Golden State by saying he could relate to Bynum's individual will to improve himself, Bryant recognized what his center had just accomplished.

"That has to be kind of the character of our team and what we're made of," Bryant said. "You got to be willing to play through things. If you're able to go out there and perform, you should do it."

Gasol -- who played bad cop to Kobe's good cop in his first real test as Lakers co-captain when he publicly admonished Bynum for taking a 3 because it's "not his game" -- said Bynum is back on board.

"There's no concern," Gasol told ESPNLosAngeles.com. "I think that we're good, he's good and we've moved on.

"Obviously he's feeling more comfortable, he's feeling more comfortable this year and he found a really good rhythm for himself. I'm happy for him and I'm happy for us."

There's still a little funkiness to Bynum's demeanor these days, to be sure.

But it's a much bigger problem for the Lakers' opponents than it is for the Lakers themselves.