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MARK HEISLER/ON THE NBA

Without Andrew Bynum, Lakers could be Boston popped

Center is sidelined with a knee injury and the Celtics are looking for payback after being blown out in L.A. at Christmas.

February 05, 2009|MARK HEISLER | ON THE NBA

Wrong place, wrong time

Back to Boston, without Andrew Bynum. . . .

Haven't we seen this before?

Oh yeah, last spring, when the Celtics tore the Lakers limb from limb in the Finals, ending it with that 131-92, have-a-nice-summer massacre in Game 6.

Talk about being in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is the Christmas game upside down, with the Celtics bent on payback and loaded for bear, or even better, Lakers.

When Kevin Garnett sat out Sunday's game because of a fever, Celtics Coach Doc Rivers took the unusual step of announcing that Garnett was also out Tuesday in Philadelphia.

Guess which game they were saving him for.

Garnett will play tonight if they have to wheel him out on a gurney.

The Lakers have already seen Celtics leave in wheelchairs and return to turn games around, as Paul Pierce did in last spring's Finals opener.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson had his fun with that ("Was Oral Roberts back there in their locker room?") although, in retrospect, it's no longer as funny to the Lakers.

Now the Lakers are back with the same lineup the Celtics shut down last spring, when Kendrick Perkins contained Pau Gasol one on one, and Garnett played off Lamar Odom, daring him to shoot, while sealing off the middle.

However, in good news for Lakers fans, this just in: This isn't last season.

This isn't the Finals. The Lakers didn't lose the championship when Bynum went down.

As they can't win a championship at this time of year, they can't lose one. They haven't even secured a berth in the West finals, although no challenger has yet emerged.

No one is even chasing them. With Manu Ginobili out, Gregg Popovich, coach of No. 2 San Antonio, just rested Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Michael Finley in Tuesday's loss in Denver.

For Bynum, it's a different season, a different knee and a different injury, a torn ligament as opposed to a dislocated kneecap.

In the modern NBA where medical news is treated like a state secret, nothing authoritative can ever be written about an injury. The key factor is how bad the tear is, which the Lakers won't talk about.

Nevertheless, it seems significant that Bynum is not undergoing surgery.

Last season, the Lakers were super-cautious, knowing Bynum, a potential franchise player, would be brought back slowly.

His rehab still ran longer than projected, his comeback failed and he finally needed surgery.

So, if I were the Lakers, this time I would be super-cautious times two.

The last thing they want is a replay with everybody awaiting Bynum's return, which keeps getting pushed back, and never winds up happening.

There was a message to everyone, starting with their players, when they announced it would be eight to 12 weeks:

Andrew isn't guaranteed to be back for the start of the playoffs, so don't be waiting for him.

I'd also guess there's a built-in cushion within those eight to 12 weeks, so they can do an arthroscopic procedure if the knee doesn't respond and still get him back.

Whatever happens, here comes another post-Bynum similarity: The Lakers are now looking at hard times, or at least harder times than they've known.

And see if this sounds familiar: Suddenly, all eyes turn toward Odom.

He's on the salary cap for $14 million and with a marginalized role, the Lakers want to defer a decision until after the season, unless the bottom falls out.

They might actually be able to get Sacramento's Brad Miller for Odom, since the Kings were willing to trade them Ron Artest for Odom last season.

The problem now isn't Odom's play but Lamar being Lamar, with that salary, for a team over the luxury tax threshold.

Acquiring Miller would mean taking on next season's $12.3-million salary -- incurring another $12.3 million in tax, for $24.6 million -- to back up Bynum and Gasol.

With Lakerdom back in Will Lamar Step Up Mode?, here's another news flash. In his ninth season, that's who he is, the talented, versatile, tantalizing player everyone has waited nine years to step up.

Things change, which is why they play these seasons out (well, that and to make money.)

Does anyone remember all that 70-win talk when the Lakers started 8-0?

Things now figure to get worse before they get better, unless Bynum arises from a wheelchair tonight, goes out and jumps center.

That would be payback. Whatever happens, Lakers fans can still dream.

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mark.heisler@latimes.com

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Lakers vs. Boston

Tonight, 5 PST

at TD Banknorth Garden. TV: TNT

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