Center Andrew Bynum laughs during the Lakers' victory over the Denver… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
There were smiles all around the Lakers' practice facility.
Andrew Bynum marveled at his triple-double performance in the Lakers' 103-88 Game 1 victory over the Denver Nuggets where he set a Laker playoff record and tied an NBA playoff record with 10 blocked shots. Pau Gasol joked that Bynum remained so effective he took away at least one of his blocks. And Kobe Bryant heaped praise on Bynum's blocking effort by offering a not-so-subtle dig at a former Lakers' center.
"It was the most enjoyable one," Bryant said regarding Bynum's 10-block performance. For the record, Shaquille O'Neal had blocked eight shots in three separate playoff appearances as Lakers, including Utah (May 2, 1998), Philaldephia (June 8, 2001) and San Antonio (May 9, 2004).
Underneath the positive energy stood a larger element that should spark further optimism about the Lakers entering Game 2 Tuesday against the Nuggets. Although Nuggets Coach George Karl contended Bynum played illegal defense in 30 different plays, Bynum's effectiveness actually reflected his renewed focus on defense.
"I was getting my own looks, but they were double- and triple-teaming me," said Bynum, who scored only 10 points on five-of-seven shooting. "We can beat them without me scoring. If they want to keep double- and triple-teaming me, that's fine."
The Lakers executed that game plan, holding the Nuggets to 88 points on 35.6% shooting. That was due partly to the vast amount of preparation by Coach Mike Brown. The shortened NBA season hardly allowed that to happen beforehand. After Brown tried to squeeze in as much practice time as possible in the first two months of the season, players soon tired of the information overload as fatigue hit them. Meanwhile, it proved harder to grasp scouting information when there's less time to scout for it, teach it and execute it against multiple opponents.
For this postseason, Brown cut DVDs of every scheme, handed them out to his players and then repeatedly walked through the schemes leading into Sunday's game.
"Before Game 1, we'll put you guys in the right spot and give you guys a lot of technical help on both ends of the floor," Brown recalled telling his players. "But at the end of the day, you have to play basketball."
Bynum spearheaded that effort by quickly passing out of double teams, ensuring six players scored in double figures. His size presence alone either intimidated Denver from driving into the lane or just leading to further embarrassment. Bynum repeatedly helped out on pick-and-roll coverages, holding Denver's backcourt in Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo to a six-of-22 clip.
"He's proving that in order to have a good game," Gasol said, "you don't need to score 30 points."
Whether Bynum keeps that mindset remains to be seen. Only three weeks ago, Bynum became the fifth player in Laker history to record 30 rebounds, only to grab single digits in five of the next six. His effort level looked so questionable last week that Brown benched Bynum for most of their game against Oklahoma City.
The Lakers contend that unpredictably is part of them.
As much as the Lakers anticipate Denver to react by pushing the pace and resorting to more drive and kicks, they believe Bynum can still replicate that same presence. Should Denver actually take Steve Blake and Devin Ebanks more seriously on the perimeter, well that just opens the lane for Bynum. Plus, Bynum's already learned all the scouting.
The result left everyone in a good mood, including Bynum. But he's eager to prove Game 1 wasn't a fluke.
"Everyone was happy and more excited than I was. It was one game. We have to come out and win [Game 2], Bynum said. "When we defend, we're a very good team. When we try to outscore teams, it's a tossup."