DENVER — Andrew Bynum enthusiastically greeted Jordan Hill during a timeout late in the fourth quarter, venturing near half court to embrace him.
Never mind that Hill had replaced Bynum for the previous 7 minutes 17 seconds of a playoff game.
Everyone on the Lakers is rooting for the reserve forward who has become a focal point of their success.
Hill had 12 points and 11 rebounds in only 23 minutes during the Lakers' 92-88 victory over the Denver Nuggets in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series Sunday at the Pepsi Center. It was his third double-double in six games since becoming a regular member of the rotation.
"It's not surreal to me," Hill said. "I can definitely do it. I can definitely rebound, get putbacks [and] whenever I need to score I can definitely do it."
Hill reentered the game with 3 minutes 5 seconds left in third quarter and remained on the court until there was 2:36 left to play. The third-year player scored five of the Lakers' final seven points in the third quarter, including a baseline jumper that trimmed his team's deficit to 71-70 going into the fourth quarter.
He snagged a couple of rebounds over the next few minutes and had a dunk off a missed jumper by Steve Blake as the Lakers clung to a tenuous lead.
"I thought the energy we got from Jordan Hill from his double-double was huge for us," Lakers Coach Mike Brown said. "That, to me, was probably the biggest difference in the game."
Hill, Blake and Matt Barnes had been badly outplayed by their Nuggets counterparts in the first three games of the series, with the Lakers reserves being outscored by an average of 28.7 points per game.
They were outscored again Sunday, 39-26, but between big plays by Hill and Blake, they'll happily take it this time. Blake had eight fourth-quarter points, including a three-pointer that gave the Lakers a 92-86 lead with 18.9 seconds left.
The 6-foot-10 Hill has been the Lakers' primary backup big man since playing the fourth quarter and both overtimes of the Lakers' 114-106 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in the penultimate game of the regular season. He responded with 14 points and 15 rebounds.
Not bad for a player who was essentially a throw-in in the Lakers' March trade involving Derek Fisher and a first-round draft pick. He barely played in his first 21 games with his new team, in part because he sustained a sprained knee ligament.
Now he's often on the court when games are decided.
"He's been a huge contributor for us ever since we inserted him in the lineup," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. "He's been extremely consistent. He's given us a huge, huge boost."
Hill will be a free agent after the season, though it seems increasingly probable the Lakers will try to bring him back even though he faces a third-degree felony assault charge in Houston for allegedly choking a former girlfriend in February.
"Being a free agent, anything can happen," Hill said. "I'm just trying not to focus on that right now. I'm just trying to focus on this ring. It will definitely feel great to have a ring on my finger and after the season, we'll go from there."
First things first. Like celebratory hugs from Bynum.
"Andrew, he's an All-Star," Hill said. "He's a fool. He's definitely funny. But he just wanted to win too."