Andrew Bynum walked slowly, with a limp, wearing flip-flops instead of high-tops as he ambled around the periphery of the practice court.
The Lakers were in a five-on-five half-court scrimmage Wednesday, but not Bynum, who continued to sit out practices while managing a knee injury.
The fact that he plays in games despite torn cartilage in his right knee is commendable, but the Lakers aren't into giving out way-to-go certificates. Instead, they will want production from him against the undersized Phoenix Suns, their opponent in the Western Conference finals, which begin Monday at Staples Center.
How much do the Lakers love to go inside against the Suns' traditionally tiny defense? When they met in a playoff series that went seven games in 2006, Coach Phil Jackson insisted that the Lakers pound the ball down low to none other than Kwame Brown, their center at the time.
That's right. Brown was the focus on offense for a team with Kobe Bryant.
So it wasn't surprising to hear Jackson say Wednesday that the Lakers will try to pound it inside against Phoenix, again, which could serve two functions, leading to easy baskets and slowing the pace of the game.
"As we look into the playoffs, we've had size and it's been our strength and we want to exploit it, and we certainly will against the Phoenix Suns," Jackson said.
Bynum played well in Game 2 against Utah in the conference semifinals, finishing with 17 points, 14 rebounds and four blocked shots, but he went scoreless in Game 3 and had a curious stat line in Game 4: six points, seven rebounds, five fouls.
"I felt he couldn't quite get there to the point where he had to play with that explosion and with that aggressiveness that he played the first two games" against Utah, Jackson said. "We hope that he gets it back again."
So does Bynum.
"That's the plan," he said. "I think early position [down low] is going to be the way to go. I need to be more active, which is tough with the knee, but I think I can get it done."
The Suns will get plenty of production from the ageless Steve Nash (36 years old, averaging 17.8 points and nine assists in the playoffs) and the effervescent Amare Stoudemire, but the Suns are a 31-4 when guard Jason Richardson scores 20 or more points, including their victories in a Western Conference semifinals sweep of San Antonio.
"You know Amare is going to score and Steve is going to do his thing, so it's like me coming in and being the X-factor when I score," Richardson recently told the Arizona Republic.
Lakers followers will be relieved to hear that Richardson did not score 20 points against the Lakers in any of their four games this season. In fact, he averaged 8.8 points and shot 31% against them.
Just the same, Bryant sounded serious when asked about matching up against Richardson, who is averaging 21.9 points and shooting 51% in the playoffs.
"He's shooting the ball extremely well, penetrating and posting," Bryant said. "It's been a big, big key in how well they're playing right now."
The Lakers are definitely tracking the Boston-Cleveland series, which the Celtics lead, 3-2. Tuesday night "was a surprise," Bynum said. "I thought Cleveland was going to be able to protect home court." Game 6 is Thursday at Boston. … Bynum wasn't the only one who missed Wednesday's practice. Bryant sat out to rest his right knee and Pau Gasol left early because of sinusitis, though it was not considered serious. … Tickets for Lakers home games in the conference finals go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. at Ticketmaster, ticketmaster.com and by telephone at (800) 462-2849. There is a limit of four tickets per person per game. Tickets will not be sold at the Staples Center box office.
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