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BILL PLASCHKE

Despite a terrific effort by Bynum, caution is advised

Lakers center plays extremely well in his season debut, but one solid game doesn't make up for his checkered body of work.

January 01, 2012|BILL PLASCHKE
  • Lakers center Andrew Bynum reacts after making a shot and drawing a foul against Denver on Saturday afternoon at Staples Center.
Lakers center Andrew Bynum reacts after making a shot and drawing a foul… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

This game being played on New Year's Eve, one could easily assume that Andrew Bynum was the confetti.

He dropped down from the Staples Center sky and scattered himself everywhere, blanketing fears and distractions and the Denver Nuggets.

One could also assume that Andrew Bynum was the champagne.

He popped, bubbled and sprayed for 29 points and 13 rebounds, leaving Lakers fans tipsy with surprise after a thrilling 92-89 victory.

Then again, sigh, if you've followed Bynum's career, you would have no choice but to say the dude was the party horn.

For one moment Saturday afternoon, he resonated with the perfect noise. But the material is flimsy, and the sound is fleeting and you have to wonder, how long can it last?

In other words, the Lakers would be wise not to let old acquaintance be forgot.

They can cherish the way Bynum dominated the court after his eight-month layoff, but they must remember how his brittle knees have forced him to sit out an average of 31 games in each of the last four seasons. They can enjoy the way he stormed through the Nuggets defense, but they must remember how he stormed off the court after tearing off his shirt and stripping the Lakers of their dignity in last season's playoffs in Dallas.

Perhaps the best that can be said about Bynum's performance Saturday is that it was good enough for praise, good enough for hope, but also good enough for the Orlando Magic to sneak a peek in case this whole Dwight Howard thing is still alive

"If Andrew can stay healthy and do that on a consistent basis, I'm telling you, we'd have a nice little three-headed monster," Kobe Bryant said as he walked out of the Staples Center locker room.

He didn't say it definitively. He said it longingly. He said it while shaking his head as if saying a new year's prayer. He knows. They all know.

Bynum's energetic performance was strong enough to make a casual fan dream of a championship -- he only missed five of 18 shots, he had two blocks and one steal and several hustle dunks -- but longtime observers surely understand the risks of such giddiness, and the Lakers weren't falling for it yet.

Mike Brown was so appropriately intent on crediting memorable hustle plays by Derek Fisher and Steve Blake that he didn't even mention Bynum in his postgame opening remarks.

"I am fine with Andrew, I expect him to play well, but that's not why we won the game," Brown said after his conference. "I want everyone to know that our defense and hustle is how we will win games."

When Fisher was asked about Bynum's performance, he joked about Sunday night's game in Denver.

"We're going to get him the ball 20 times in a row in Denver, and that Mile High is going to climb on his back real quick, and we're all going to watch him suffer," Fisher said, grinning.

Only Pau Gasol seemed willing to place a definitive label on something so volatile.

"He was spectacular, outstanding, the energy he played with was very impressive," Gasol said. "I expected a solid game, but I didn't expect this kind of performance."

Who did? Bynum took the court not only battling endurance after sitting out the season's first four games because of suspension, but he was also being trailed by a string of off-season, off-court incidents that include handicapped parking violations, traffic tickets and, most recently, an alleged incident in which he is said to have driven his car on the wrong side of the street in an effort to pass a slower vehicle.

"I don't have any distractions, I don't read the press, none of that bothers me," Bynum said Saturday.

He certainly played like it from the start, his second touch resulting in two free throws, his third touch resulting in a layup, and his fourth touch turning into a hook. By the time his season was four minutes old, he already had six points, an outburst that was matched only by his 11 points on five-for-five shooting in the fourth quarter.

From start to finish he showed up huge, even though he was so exhausted, he said he didn't breathe in the first few minutes.

"I just made myself big down low, they got me the ball, that's all I can ask for," Bynum said.

In between his inspiring start and finish, nobody swarmed Bynum more than his own coach, as Brown was constantly tutoring him on the sideline, sometimes even turning his back to the game to continue the conversation.

"This was his first game, he was a little behind on the plays, it makes it tough for everybody," Brown said. "I also had to keep reminding him to run, run, run, run."

The Lakers are indeed monstrous when Bynum is working well with Gasol and Bryant, but if somebody suggests they anoint Bynum as the future of the franchise after this one game, they need their own bit of Brown-style coaching.

Wait, wait, wait, wait.

bill.plaschke@latimes.com

twitter.com/billplaschke

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