Andrew Bynum was the toast of the town a year ago, averaging 17.3 points and 12.3 rebounds in the month of January before a knee injury prematurely ended the party.
Can he get that feeling back?
Bynum has had one double-double in his last seven games. He had eight points and two rebounds in 25 minutes of the Lakers' 113-100 victory Friday over Utah.
Coach Phil Jackson paused several seconds when asked for his present-day thoughts on the 21-year-old prodigy.
"I asked him the other day how he felt and he said he wasn't totally happy with the way things have been going for him lately," Jackson said. "He thought he had fallen in a rut a little bit. I thought he played well enough against Boston, spirited against Boston. [Friday] night, I thought he . . . had a couple opportunities there that he didn't convert, and then he missed two free throws, and that's like a turnover."
Bynum struggled with his shot to start the season, making only 45.5% of his attempts through eight games.
Then, after a 13-game string in which he averaged 15.4 points and 8.9 rebounds, he hit a stretch where early-game foul trouble threw him out of sync.
Jackson wants him to get better position in the post.
"We talked a little bit about getting the ball deeper and getting a better start," Jackson said. "He's getting the ball a little bit higher than I'd like him to."
Did Jackson's words seem to sink in?
"I can't tell with him," Jackson said. "He doesn't have a lot of emotional response about that. I kind of talk to him occasionally but let him kind of figure out how to do things on his own. He's still a learner. I know this will be a big game for him [tonight] because obviously these two young guys compare themselves to each other."
The Lakers play host to Portland and center Greg Oden, who is three months younger than Bynum and averaging eight points and 7.3 rebounds a game in a largely unremarkable rookie season.
Bynum signed a four-year, $57.4-million contract extension before the season began and is averaging 12.2 points and 8.2 rebounds a game. He left without talking to reporters after Saturday's practice.
Jackson said Bynum's surgically repaired knee wasn't an issue. Nor is there any "mental reservation" about playing on the knee, to borrow Jackson's phrase, because Bynum has "gone through a lot of games."
All along, Jackson has said he wanted Bynum to get rebounds and block shots, though the Lakers coach seemed to want a little more from Bynum on offense.
"I think he has enough endurance, but he doesn't play with energy, you know what I mean?" Jackson said. "I think he loses energy. [Friday] night, just watching him in a sequence he had in a step-through move, he couldn't quite get that power to get to the basket and a shot he wanted. He got fouled -- the guy came across his arm and there was no call -- but that's a move that he's good enough to move and come back through and get a dunk on."