DENVER — It's not like the Lakers to have story lines of internal conflict -- oh wait, yes it is.
This one might be minor compared with Shaq vs. Kobe, or Magic vs. Paul Westhead, but there's something going on between Lakers center Andrew Bynum and Coach Phil Jackson, and it's entirely unspoken.
The root of it is pretty simple: Bynum wants to play more, and Jackson wants him to play more defense.
Bynum never returned after being yanked from Game 2 of the Western Conference finals with 7:14 left in the third quarter Thursday night.
It had nothing to do with foul trouble. He had only one. And he had no turnovers in the Lakers' 106-103 loss to the Denver Nuggets.
Jackson didn't like that Bynum failed to hustle downcourt after not getting a pass in the post on a Lakers possession. Denver center Nene, left unguarded at the other end, made a layup and was fouled by Kobe Bryant for a potential three-point play (he missed the free throw).
Lamar Odom quickly checked into the game. Bynum checked out for the rest of the night, finishing with nine points on four-for-eight shooting in 18 minutes.
Jackson has been frustrated by Bynum's lack of defense and rebounding, though he declined to speak in depth about him after Friday's practice.
Jackson said Bynum didn't return in the fourth quarter because the Nuggets went with a smaller lineup and that there were no guarantees of more playing time for Bynum tonight in Game 3.
"I don't know," Jackson said. "We'll see what this next game brings."
Bynum was slightly more outspoken, in his own way.
"There's nothing to be said," he said. "I've just got to go out there and play if I'm called upon. I'm here to do what they want me to do. If that's what my job is to be, then I'll do it."
Bynum said he was more disappointed than angry and would talk to Jackson about his feelings only "if he approaches me."
Would he ever approach Jackson?
"Nah. It's not really my place," Bynum said. "It's for him to decide what's going on."
These haven't been the best playoffs for Bynum, who is averaging 5.9 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.9 fouls in 15.7 minutes a game. He went scoreless in three games of the Houston series, two of them with Yao Ming sidelined because of a broken foot.
Bynum made four of eight shots and one of three free-throw attempts in Game 2.
"I had a couple of shots just rim out, which would have turned into a better game for me," he said. "If he's going to play me in the minutes I'm going to play, I can do a little bit better out there."
Just the same, Bynum bristles when asked about Denver's front-court domination so far this series.
"I keep hearing this question. It's kind of funny," he said. "They're getting their stuff because of our defensive scheme. They're just driving to the basket and nobody's bumping them.
"When I roll to the basket, I get hit by [Chauncey] Billups on the way down to the rim. It's just team defense. [Our defense] definitely needs to be more physical. It definitely needs to have more people on bodies. We can't just let people run free."
Bynum, who missed 32 games because of a sprained medial collateral ligament, said he still felt pain in his right knee.
"It's OK. It's not great," he said. "It's still the same as a couple weeks back, pain here and there. It'll be solved this off-season, strengthening it up. It's really more like tendinitis right there. It's got to get strong."
Bynum or not, the Nuggets didn't seem too perturbed by whatever is ailing the Lakers' frontline.
"Yeah, they're taller," forward Kenyon Martin said. "They have two great players. But we've got some guys on this side that can play as well. I think we're more athletic, I would say that. They might be taller, but I think we can hold our own by playing as we have all season by just getting after it. Just not taking no prisoners, no matter who it is."
As competitive and amped up as the Nuggets were in the series' first two games, they'll be even better at home -- "much better," Bryant said.
"They'll be playing looser, with more confidence, more aggression, more energy," he said.
Denver has won 16 consecutive games at the Pepsi Center, a streak dating to a March 9 loss against Houston, 97-95. The Nuggets are 6-0 in home playoff games and will be playing their first home game in a West finals since 1985.
Somebody stop him
Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony is averaging 36.5 points in the first two games of the West finals.
The Lakers are painfully aware of it.
"I think it's a little too high -- way too high -- in my opinion," Pau Gasol said. "We've got to a better job of trying to contain him and forcing him to take tougher jumpers and tougher looks. He's getting to the lane too easily and getting those offensive rebounds that are really hurting us in key possessions."
Times staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.