Reporting from Boston -- The Lakers will awake Sunday morning with two prominent questions.
How long will Andrew Bynum last? And can they beat the Boston Celtics if he doesn't log much time?
After 4,926 minutes in 102 games wrapped into an eight-month championship-defending march, the ever-pivotal Game 5 of the NBA Finals might come down to the right knee of a shot-blocking, rebounding, space-eating 22-year-old.
Bynum said he would play Sunday, potentially giving the Lakers the interior presence they need against a burly Boston team that bullied them in Game 4. Despite Bynum's admirable character, his swollen knee might not match his heart, which could lead to a replay of two years ago, when the Celtics hammered the Lakers down low in the Finals as Bynum sat out because of a knee injury.
The Lakers, for the record, desperately want the services of Bynum. Make that the healthy, extended services of Bynum, who had two more ounces of fluid drained from his knee Thursday night in a trainer's room buried underneath TD Garden after getting almost 2 1/2 ounces taken out of the knee two weeks ago.
If only he hadn't hyperextended his knee while moving downcourt near the midpoint of the third quarter in a first-round game against Oklahoma City.
But he did. He and his knee have been day to day since April 30.
He did not practice Saturday with the rest of the team but spoke about the importance of playing Sunday.
"This is the biggest game of my career," he said as he walked to the team bus after a swarm of media members had dissipated following a 30-minute interview session with Lakers players and coaches.
Bynum's presence isn't an option for the Lakers. It's practically mandatory for them to win, in case the second half of Game 4 wasn't enough of an indication of life without Bynum.
The Lakers were outscored in the half, 54-44, and doubled up in points in the paint, 32-16, not to mention outrebounded, 20-14, as Bynum played 1:50 of the third quarter before leaving for good.
If Bynum can't play, Pau Gasol will have to go up against beefy Celtics center Kendrick Perkins and Lamar Odom starts against Kevin Garnett.
They are both bad matchups for the Lakers, starting with the physicality of the 280-pound Perkins.
"Yeah, he's got the ability to displace Pau … move him off the post," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson acknowledged.
Pretty much every Lakers fan in America is up to speed on Odom's woes, most recently his issues in the second half of Game 4 against Glen "Big Baby" Davis, who finished with 18 points as Odom took one second-half rebound in 22 minutes of play.
Jackson said he would use an electrode to stimulate Odom if the results aren't any better in Game 5. He was joking. Maybe.
Bynum will try to do his part. He was averaging 13.3 points, 7.3 rebounds and 2.7 blocked shots in the first three games of the Finals before getting two points, three rebounds and no blocked shots in Game 4. He made the decision to have the knee drained right there in TD Garden, a minor procedure requiring a sterile needle and sanitary environment.
"They numb you up and stick you and that's it," Bynum said. "It hurts for the first little while because of the needle and there's no fluid protecting the area."
Bynum had an MRI exam Friday that confirmed the presence of torn cartilage in the knee. He spoke with his personal doctor, David Altchek, over the phone after the exam was sent to the New York knee specialist.
Bynum said Altchek was mildly concerned about the swelling but not in a big-picture kind of way.
"No long-term ramifications," Bynum said.
Fluid has again started to collect slowly in the knee, but not as much as when he had it drained after the Western Conference finals. Bynum said the bigger concern would be the team's Monday morning flight from Boston to Los Angeles, when swelling might increase.
Just the same, the Lakers' center understands his knee isn't feeling the way it should.
"Your body's telling you something's wrong if you keep putting needles into the area," he said Saturday.
He will have surgery in late June or early July, an operation from which it will take at least four weeks to recover. It seems to be the furthest thing from his mind.
"I'm going to go out and I'm going to play. That's why I got the knee drained," he said. "Being able to contribute in the postseason and get us over the hump [against Boston] would be a big accomplishment for me."
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