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Lakers' Andrew Bynum holds up his end in the middle

T.J. SIMERS

The Lakers are different with him, more energized, a key component in the playoffs. The fragile one has spent his injured time reading life lessons, which brings up the cheap shot.

April 18, 2010|T.J. Simers

Turns out it had nothing to do with the Lakers hitting the switch as much as getting Andrew Bynum back on the floor.

We'll get to Bynum's talking about what he's learned from reading the "Life of Pi," his efforts to teach himself Spanish and Sunday's cheap shot, but first -- have you noticed how different the Lakers look with the big kid in the middle?

OK, so he's not always there, an injured this or that, 96 games missed over the last three seasons, and what are the chances he will still be standing in the middle when these playoffs come to an end?

But right now the basket continues to jiggle at one end of Staples Center, a Bynum dunk bringing everyone to their feet and his teammates taking turns hugging him.

He's been here for five years already, an NBA career for a lot of players, and yet he's 22 -- maybe a few healthy seasons in a row away from being one of the game's most dominant players.

Careful, don't stumble stepping off the curb, Andrew.

As eggshells go, Phil Jackson was hoping to get 24 minutes out of the fragile one after a 13-game layoff because of an Achilles' injury, but instead he got more than 30 minutes, 13 points and 12 rebounds.

And that monster dunk.

"That kind of got me going,'' Bynum says, a little winded at times, but an obvious difference-maker. "That kind of play can create a lot of energy."

Energy, or the lack of it at times, seems to define these Lakers. When they play with zest, and a first half against Utah here a few weeks back comes to mind, they appear unbeatable.

When they don't have it, and an 11-10 record in their last 21 regular-season games suggests they didn't, they appear very ordinary.

That's what makes Bynum so valuable. He's electric at times at home, charging up the crowd like only Kobe can, everyone loving Bynum's macho routine.

And so maybe this is the time to mention Bynum's cheap shot, or the debate of whether it was a dirty play. First of all, everyone is in agreement it got the crowd buzzing.

It's the first quarter and Bynum goes down in a tangle with Oklahoma City's Jeff Green. As both teams head back up the court, Bynum rising to his feet, he throws a shoulder and all of his 285 pounds or more into Green.

There are 18,997 in attendance, everyone notices, TV later shows a replay, and the only folks in the building who don't notice are the three referees.

When Jackson is asked about the "cheap shot," he wants to know whether the question refers to what led to Bynum's fall, suggesting Bynum was reacting only in retaliation.

"No, Bynum's cheap shot," Jackson is told.

"A good sign," Jackson replies, "showing he's not going to stand around and get picked on."

Then it's Bynum's turn. "Are you surprised you got away with it?"

"Someone got away with their [cheap shot] first," he says, and so the message is very simple -- don't mess with Bynum.

If anyone wanted to mess with Bynum the last few weeks, they had to go to the Lakers' locker room and ask him to remove his headset. Unable to play, he used his spare time on Rosetta Stone Spanish.

"I can speak a little," he says, while going on to demonstrate, speaking more than just a little.

By now of course he should be able to speak three or four languages if using his time while injured to study more.

"The first year I got hurt it really bothered me," he says.

But then he started reading books, self-motivation and life lessons-- the "Life of Pi," for example, about someone who survives a shipwreck for 227 days at sea.

"It's learning how to handle things and getting the most out of opportunity when it comes up," he says, a lesson well learned as the battered and bruised Oklahoma City Thunder now understand.

IT'S NICE the playoffs are underway, but how about some playoff-worthy officials? These guys couldn't cut it in the Pacific 10 Conference, and they use almost anyone to referee those games.

IT WAS hard not to notice, "New York 18" running in sparkles across the front of Jeanie Buss' orange blouse, a columnist paid to observe such things.

I suppose I could have waited for the book, former Times sportswriter Steve Springer doing one with Jeanie to be released next October, but knowing Springer I'll have to buy it.

So I asked Jeanie. "It was Phil's number when he played in New York," she said, apparently the two still going steady.

ORDINARILY, A Lakers' marketing official said, they find a fan in the crowd, preferably someone looking athletic, and let them shoot for money at the end of the first quarter.

Something didn't seem quite right in the playoff opener, though, Rich Eisen taking the court, an NFL Network broadcaster, who would never be mistaken for someone looking athletic.

Eisen couldn't get the ball to the rim from the free-throw line, and this is a guy who makes his living talking about the arm strength of quarterbacks.

The Lakers' marketing official said it was set up so Eisen could take the shot rather than some fan, who really could use the money, or at least hit the rim.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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