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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

Lakers center Andrew Bynum plays his way back

His game, lagging since the return of Pau Gasol, picks up again (19 points) after his frontcourt mate tweaks his other hamstring.

January 04, 2010|Mark Heisler

In the bad news for the Lakers, Pau Gasol tweaked his other hamstring and is day-to-day again.

On the bright side, they finally figured a way to get the ball to Andrew Bynum!

Bynum's game, in mourning since Gasol returned, was reborn as soon as Pau left, after Andrew's first-quarter stint in which he got no shots, scored no points and grabbed one rebound.

After that, Bynum scored 19 points, making all eight of his shots, his biggest scoring game in a month.

Not that that was why the Lakers beat the Dallas Mavericks, reportedly the No. 2 team in the West, who collapsed as soon as the opening tip went up.

If this was the Mavericks' audition for the role of one of the titans in a duel of titans, it came on the second night of a back-to-back, and they were DOA.

Gratefully, the Lakers, who struggled recently against teams like the Kings and Warriors when they weren't getting bombed by the Cavaliers and Suns, coasted to a 131-96 victory, dominating the Mavericks as they had dominated everyone up to Christmas and no one since.

If the word "dominating" is thrown around a lot, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has had teams that really were and did.

Of course, they were in Chicago, notably in the three-year run from 1996 to 1998 when the Bulls posted win totals of 72-69-62 while capturing three titles.

Does Jackson see that potential in this Lakers team?

"Well, they haven't recently," he said before the game.

"And they're a little concerned about it. But they had a span of time out there where they were dominating in the month of November and early December."

Not that it's hard to figure out what happened.

When the Lakers went 15-1, from Gasol's return to their Christmas flop against the Cavaliers, they not only had Bryant but a dominating front line.

When Bynum's touches, shots and points declined and his rebound totals were halved, their front line went from dominating to good.

If Bynum's activity level increases with his touches, shots and points, it's not as easy as you'd think to get him more.

Team dynamics resist change. The way it is on any team is the way it is for myriad reasons: some by design, some contrary to design.

In this case, Bynum can never be the No. 1 option in the post. That's Gasol, a better passer and mid-range shooter who can create more opportunities for teammates.

There are only so many shots and only so many times you can go into the post.

Moreover, Bryant has a pronounced comfort level with Gasol, playing through Pau effortlessly. Without him, Kobe went back into takeover mode, averaging 10 points in the first quarters of the first 11 games.

As soon as Pau returned, Kobe went back to playing through him. Everything fell into place for all of them, like Derek Fisher, who shot 33% in the first 11 games and 50% between Gasol's return and Christmas.

Well, everything fell into place for most of them, anyway.

If Bynum likes to score, the Lakers don't care because they have enough people who do.

What they do miss is Andrew's rebounding, which dropped from 11.8 a game without Gasol to 6.1 with him.

"He gets his touches," said Bryant of Bynum. "But there's a pecking order. You know, Pau's next in line. But we'll make sure we keep Andrew along."

Of course, Bynum could wake up one day and decide to just rebound and defend. A famous player named Bill Russell won 11 titles doing that.

Unfortunately, Russell's last one was in 1969, 18 years before Bynum was born. Andrew may know more about the Tyrannosaurus rex from watching "Jurassic Park" than he knows about Bill Russell.

So for the moment, all you can say about the Lakers is, they have it in them to dominate, and sometimes it even gets out.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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