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Andrew Bynum is a playoff question mark again

Center injured his knee in the final week against San Antonio. Lakers are saying it isn't serious.

April 14, 2011|By Mike Bresnahan
  • Lakers center Andrew Bynum catches his breath during a game against the Utah Jazz at Staples Center.
Lakers center Andrew Bynum catches his breath during a game against the… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)

It's the two-word phrase always uttered by nervous Lakers fans this time of year.

How's Bynum?

If the Lakers are in the playoffs, Andrew Bynum sometimes is too, though not in 2008 when they got shellacked by Boston in the NBA Finals and only somewhat the last two playoff runs, his body willing to play every postseason game but often not able to put up solid numbers.

The questions began anew when he tumbled to the court Tuesday against San Antonio, executing an awkward set of splits after stepping on DeJuan Blair's foot while running downcourt.

L.A. Times' Mark Medina, Mike Bresnahan and Brad Turner preview Lakers-Hornets series

The MRI exam showed a bone bruise in Bynum's right knee. It could have been worse.

How he'll respond Sunday in the playoff opener against New Orleans is up for debate.

"I can't tell you that at all now," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said Thursday. "That's premature."

Translation: No one has any idea how he'll do.

In fact, the Lakers aren't even sure Bynum will be able to practice between now and then, despite private assurances from the 23-year-old center to Jackson that he'll be fine.

Bynum hasn't spoken publicly since the injury, and he barely stopped to do it after Tuesday's game, taking long strides from the locker room to his car and briefly answering questions lobbed by hurried reporters in a minute.

Bynum wasn't available for comment Thursday, though Kobe Bryant spoke about him Wednesday in Sacramento.

"Our size has always been our greatest advantage," he said. "The good thing is that it's nothing serious [with Bynum]. It's not going to hold him back. It's not going to restrict his play."

Bynum will play against the Hornets' defensively driven center Emeka Okafor, who doesn't show much on offense (10.3 points a game) but averaged a solid 9.5 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots.

Bynum averaged 12.7 points and 13.3 rebounds in March but dropped to nine points and 12 rebounds in April.

"Certainly we'd hope that he can do that …and better," Jackson said. "But right now it's about physically being capable."

Bynum was missed badly in the 2008 playoffs, the Lakers getting pounded down low by Boston while he sat out because of a briefly dislocated left kneecap.

"We know that we didn't finish it off and win," Jackson said. "And that's the difference between having Andrew and not having Andrew. It's about the rebounding and strength that we can have in the middle."

Bynum came back from a torn medial collateral ligament to play all 23 playoff games in 2009, though he averaged only 6.3 points and 3.7 rebounds. The Lakers were lucky they faced Orlando in the NBA Finals, a team not nearly as physical as the Celtics.

Bynum again played all 23 playoff games last season and endeared himself to the franchise by fighting through torn cartilage in his right knee. He averaged 8.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, all playoff career bests, and had surgery a few weeks after the championship parade.

Nobody can predict whether another party will take over Figueroa Street in June. The Lakers are waiting to see what Bynum can offer. His presence is needed by a team that hasn't always seemed championship-worthy in an uneven season.

"He has to play, and we have to get him out there on the floor," Jackson said. "Hopefully he'll have his rhythm back."

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

Times staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.

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