Lakers center Andrew Bynum drives between Atlanta forward Al Horford,… (Kevin C. Cox / Getty Images )
Reporting from Atlanta — — What if many Lakers fans got their wish, and Andrew Bynum had been traded?
Maybe Kobe Bryant's parking-lot tirade a few years ago was acted upon by the Lakers' front office, and Bynum was shipped out for Jason Kidd. Or maybe last month's rumors involving Bynum and the Denver Nuggets actually had some validity to them.
Every Lakers player can't stop gushing about Bynum, who again swatted away a mess of shots, took a mountain of rebounds and drove the Lakers to a 101-87 victory Tuesday over the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena.
The Lakers are flying, winners of eight consecutive games, five against playoff-bound teams, and the 7-foot Bynum might be playing the best basketball of his career.
The latest: 16 points on eight-for-10 shooting, 16 rebounds, three blocked shots and, why not, three assists.
Bryant had 26 points and passed Moses Malone for sixth on the NBA's career scoring list, but Bynum was the one who couldn't stop smiling as he walked toward the team bus.
He knows that Denver initiated the phone calls to the Lakers and then miraculously, after breathless accounts of "Carmelo Anthony to the Lakers?" hit the airwaves, New York and New Jersey began to increase their offers for the Nuggets' All-Star forward.
"Yeah, I know about that," Bynum said. "It's good that my name can do that, but at the same time, I don't let it weigh on me. I was around for the [Chris] Bosh rumors, the Carmelo rumors, there was another trade — Jason Kidd. I've been through it."
The Lakers fans who wanted Bynum traded? They're enough to make Ron Artest mad, which isn't usually a good thing.
"They're crazy," he said. "They're stupid. It doesn't make no sense. I don't care what they say. He's only 23. Are you serious?
"Even if he has a bad knee, it'll get better in two years. He's going to be one of the top centers in the league for the next couple of years. But L.A., they want everybody to average 25 and 10. You've got to be satisfied with a team effort."
Said Bryant: "[Bynum] is playing phenomenally well. He's doing everything we can ask of him and more."
Bynum wasn't the only one who played defense against Atlanta, which shot 39.8%.
Derek Fisher took a charge from Marvin Williams, grabbing the left side of his chest not to show he had heart but because he got hit hard there. Then he drew a foul from Joe Johnson while the Hawks guard tried too aggressively to set a pick.
Bryant added a touch of defense as well, blocking Josh Smith's shot from behind. The Lakers (46-19) equaled their longest winning streak since starting the season 8-0.
"We've been waiting for this team to show that character again," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
It made one wonder how they ever lost to Cleveland.
Despite the game's locale, it felt like a Lakers home game with purple and gold dotting the lower bowl. A "Let's Go Lakers" chant did not sit well with the few Hawks fans in attendance, though their retaliatory boos were more tide pool than tsunami.
Atlanta wasn't quite the problem spot that Portland and Charlotte have been over the years, but the Lakers hadn't won here since February of 2007.
The Lakers had assists on 15 of their first 21 baskets while the undersized Hawks bumbled along, getting outscored in the paint, 44-20.
A 22-point lead was trimmed to eight, but the Lakers regained control when Bryant hit a three-pointer with 3:20 to play, left his hand in the air and stared down a courtside fan who had heckled him on the shot.
Bryant has 27,423 career points. Ahead of him in fifth place? None other than Shaquille O'Neal (28,590 points).
The Lakers moved to 2-0 on their four-game trip and play Thursday against Miami, losers of five consecutive games amid reports of crying in the locker room.
What do you do to beat the Heat?
"Well, you stay cool," Jackson deadpanned.
Then he got serious.
"We've got to stop penetration against that team. [Dwyane] Wade and [LeBron] James are great penetrators."
Bynum, who has 50 rebounds and 12 blocks in his last three games, will be the last line of defense. It'll be another busy night for him. He's getting accustomed to them.