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Shaun Powell

The Lakers will need Andrew Bynum if they expect to challenge the Celtics.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Image

Bynum's health puts Lakers' chances at risk

Posted Jun 11 2010 9:48AM

BOSTON -- Early in the second half, Andrew Bynum looked and thought: That's weird. We're playing with an extra basketball.

Uh, no. That's your right knee.

"Shocked me," he said.

Swollen. That's the description of both the Celtics' confidence and, not by coincidence, Bynum's knee. The NBA Finals were thrown for a loop in Game 4 when Bynum limped off the floor two minutes into the third quarter, never to return. But it's not, despite what Bynum said, a shock. A shock would be Bynum getting 30 minutes a game the rest of this series. Or maybe 30 minutes, period, the rest of this series; that's the worst-case scenario.

You could probably assume correctly that Bynum is iffy from here on. His rickety knee is in sad shape. The Laker center got it drained just days before the series, and his absence was a drain on the Lakers in Game 4, because the Celtics went to lunch on the boards and in the paint. And if you've seen Glen 'Big Baby' Davis up close and personal, you know he eats a lot.

There are two days between now and the next game, and Bynum might need two weeks. He felt his knee expanding just 30 seconds after tipoff and knew something was up. And that was only the first red flag on a night when he saw so many, he probably thought he was in China.

"I couldn't hold position, couldn't push off," he said softly. "Ron (Artest) passed me the ball and I couldn't jump for it. Well, I tried to jump for it but something different happened."

And this:

"Big Baby ran by and touched my knee. Might have been intentional. I know they're going to do those things, so I just have to be ready for it."

He played only 12 minutes on a night during which Davis scored 18 points and looked like Wes Unseld, and the Celtics attacked the rim with impunity. Without Bynum, the Lakers just didn't have a big buffer in the paint and nobody to at least make the Celtics think twice before going to the glass. You think Lamar Odom has the girth to go up against Big Baby? Even Odom isn't too thrilled by that scenario.

"Andrew, he's invaluable," said Odom. "When he's out, we're a different team. What he gives us is something we can't give ourselves, especially offensively."

Remember, the Lakers controlled this series before Bynum's knee went helium. He was important in the Game 1 win and massive in Game 2, when he scored 21 and blocked seven shots. And then, at some point in Game 3, Bynum felt a twinge, and it wasn't a tease. The troublesome knee that underwent a scope last offseason and limited him somewhat in the regular season was back, giving him fits.

"The pain is about the same as it's always been," Bynum said. "It's the swelling. It's the worst ever. I'll deal with it, but it kinda stinks."

Bynum will have the knee checked out by his personal doctor today. He won't have it drained ("I've got to wait on that option") and will undergo surgery this summer. For now, he must deal with the twin torture of pain and swelling, and even worse, the possibility of the Celtics' big men springing to life at his expense.

"They got a lot of layups," Bynum said. "They really attacked the basket. We've got to cut that out. Can't let that happen. But I was kind of a liability out there. That was bad. I couldn't help my team in the second half."

Bynum was supposed to be the difference-maker for the Lakers in this series, considering he didn't play in the 2008 Finals because of knee issues. He eagerly looked forward to 2010 for that very reason, and all was well during the opening swing at the Staples Center, when Bynum averaged 34 minutes over two games.

What now?

"I think the big factor is that he knows he's going to be in some sort of discomfort during the course of the game," said Phil Jackson. "It comes and goes. He feels a sharp pain when he makes a certain movement. He's been able to deal with it."

A bigger issue is whether Bynum is putting his career at risk by playing. That's for the doctors to decide, but because his health has been in question for two years now, is Bynum destined to be damaged goods from here? Two pluses in his favor: He's only 22, and he'll average $14 million the next two years. Makes you wonder, though, his approach if he was in his walk year and looking for his first big payday. Would he or the Lakers put him at risk, even with a championship on the line?

For the moment, it's all about what Bynum can give the Lakers, in terms of minutes and performance. His vertical leap is slowly falling to Brian Scalabrine's level. The Lakers must find a way to have an interior defensive and/or offensive presence. What're their options? Really, there's only one.

Odom has two days to gain about 65 pounds. Better load up on Boston cream pies.

"Sunday night, I'll be ready to go," said Bynum, who must master the art of juggling two basketballs.

Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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