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NBA : Bynum blots out Suns : It's a big stop for big-top crowd

November 13, 2009|BILL PLASCHKE

The NBA's traveling carnival came to town Thursday, tilt-a-whirl breaks and cotton candy shots everywhere.

It rolled in here after owning Boston, owning Miami, owning Philadelphia, turning the early season into its own Disneyland.

"This is a fun team," chortled the Phoenix Suns Leandro Barbosa early Thursday evening at Staples Center. "We play fun basketball."

Then the diamond-studded locals wandered in, wise to the midway and wary of the rides and unimpressed with the barking.

Three hours later, the fun ended.

Three hours later, the NBA's traveling carnival had been reduced to a collection of creaky metal and cracked mirrors in a church parking lot.

Lakers 121, Suns 102, and let's not get suckered into that sideshow again, OK?

Even though the Suns started the season 6-1, they cannot win a championship with this system.

Even if the Lakers were weakened without Pau Gasol, they are still strong enough to slow and eventually smother the team that thrill-seeking fans hoped would be their biggest Western rival.

That's not happening, all right? The Lakers' biggest Western rivals play in Denver, which is where the Lakers travel for a showdown tonight. They will do so fairly well rested after romping over a Suns team that was never close.

"This game was great for us, it gets us ready to go into Denver focused and ready to attack," said the Lakers' Andrew Bynum.

Super for the 7-1 Lakers, sobering for the Suns, whose illusions took a beating as bad as their reputation.

Before the game, Barbosa said, "This is like a playoff game for us, all the guys are focused on it."

Within minutes, everything was fuzzy.

That wild and crazy Suns shooting? They missed nine of their first 11 attempts. A team that had previously made a league-best half of its shots wound up shooting just 37%.

Funny how those rainbows aren't so pretty with a hand in your face or Ron Artest in your gut.

The Lakers defense was so impressive, even against the league's highest scoring team, it nearly earned the fans free tacos, failing to keep a team that was averaging 112 points game under the century mark only in the final seconds.

"Around here we have learned, no matter what the Suns are doing, you have to constantly stay on them, and eventually things can turn," said the Lakers' Derek Fisher.

That so-called improved Suns' defense? The Lakers shot 61% in the first quarter, and wound up at 58%, seemingly everything rolling in.

Interesting how, while having no visible center makes you faster on offense, it can turn you into jelly on defense.

"When you play the Suns, you have to slow down your offense and look at the bigger picture," said Fisher.

On Thursday, that picture is a giant, and his name is, yeah, Andrew Bynum.

The only success the Suns had against the Lakers in recent years occurred when the Lakers' big man had the name of, like, Kwame Brown.

They cannot consistently beat a team with an established big man, and after his sixth game this season, Bynum is looking pretty established.

He set the tone here with eight points and five rebounds in the first quarter alone, and by the end of the game, the Lakers had outscored the Suns, 78-48, in the paint, and Bynum was a huge reason.

Despite missing the last two games with a sore elbow, he finished with 26 points, 15 rebounds, and seemingly nothing contested.

"It felt good, I got some time off and my legs got a lot of rest," Bynum said afterward.

He said his elbow was still hurting, and noted that he would be getting treatment on the flight to Denver, but said he would be ready Friday.

"It will get better with time," he said of the elbow. "I'll be ready."

If Bynum stays healthy -- and that's an "if" the size of his shoes -- the Suns won't be the only contender that can't stay with the Lakers.

On Thursday, he scored on muscling layups, on alley-oop layups, on fall-away layups, even on the occasional jumper.

He scored after grabbing his own offensive rebound, he scored after cutting through the middle for a perfect pass, he scored seemingly every way except with the fans.

When he began to walk off the court late in the second quarter, the Staples Center crowd roared, but it was not for him, it was for his replacement, favorite DJ Mbenga.

When Bynum's departure was announced, there was barely a murmur, the fans obviously still skeptical, and who can blame them?

We've seen this before. Bynum has started seasons like the best young center in the NBA before, only to end them either in bandages or disappointment.

He's a championship-assuring difference right now. But let's wait and see if it stays that way.

For now, it's enough that he can shut down the Suns, no matter how many times they score 250 points against some other rubes.

Once again, the carnival stops here.


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