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Scott Howard-Cooper

Andrew Bynum
Andrew Bynum admitted he wasn't ready to play during the first half of Game 3.
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE/Getty Images

Nonchalant Bynum needs to sharpen focus, intensity

Posted May 6 2012 10:39AM

DENVER -- Andrew Bynum left the ballroom where the Lakers had been watching film Saturday afternoon and strolled down a hallway in the team hotel with long, slow strides that made it easy to be stopped by reporters. Like the night before, in other words, when he made it easy to be stopped by the Nuggets.

Bynum, knowing it was a scheduled media session, but probably more knowing what was coming, rolled to a stop.

At least he was ready to answer the questions.

It's the night before he wasn't ready to play. It's the potential he isn't ready to embrace.

The conversation over Bynum's ability, or inability, to play with necessary focus resumed Friday night at Pepsi Center and into Saturday in the hallway at a downtown hotel. It resumed in spite of the season-long endorsement from Kobe Bryant that Bynum absolutely has the fire to become a dominant center and it resumed in spite of the two power-packed games at the start of the series against the Nuggets that gave tangible backing to Bryant's words.

Mostly, though, it resumed because Bynum halted and established carpet position on the walk from the ballroom to practice at the attached health club and was asked what the Nuggets did to take him out of the game Friday.

"I took myself out," Bynum replied. "I don't know. Maybe just not ready to play."

Eh. No big deal. It's not like the Lakers had been playing with greater determination than any opening round in years and all of the sudden offered half the determination the Nuggets displayed in the first half. And it's not like the Lakers had some advantage inside with Bynum and Pau Gasol that should stomp Denver, a team using the first round to audition centers.

Oh, wait. The Lakers had been playing with a rare level of focus for this early in the playoffs and the Lakers did have enough interior firepower to be heavy favorites at the start of the series they lead 2-1 heading into Game 4 tonight at Pepsi Center.

Bynum handed both over to the Nuggets at the opening tip Friday night because he couldn't be bothered to show, not because he got outplayed. The attitude is the issue.

"Sometimes you struggle in the first half," he said. "I came out and made the adjustments."

True. Bynum did go from an opening half of zero points and five rebounds while taking three shots -- three less than Matt Barnes, two less than Devin Ebanks -- to a second half that got him to 18 points and 12 boards at the end of the night and what by the numbers would appear to be a commendable showing. But the Lakers never would have been down an insurmountable 24 early in the second quarter if the best center in the conference was at least interested to be inside Pepsi Center.

"I just told myself, 'Things happen,' " Bynum said. "I'm going to make an adjustment going into the next game. I'll get there a little early probably, do some stuff, get adjusted to the altitude prior to the game versus in the first half."

Playing in the Mile High City bothered him (although it's not like showing up an hour earlier tonight can make a difference. Physically, at least.) But this is how one bad half can counter two very good games, even with Kobe Bryant saying Friday that Bynum hardly cost the Lakers the chance for a 3-0 lead in the first round and coach Mike Brown, not surprisingly, refusing to pile on Saturday. Brown did hit Bynum with "You hope at this time of the season everybody that steps on the floor is ready," but that was the hardest shot.

"Does Andrew drive me crazy?" Brown said, repeating a question. "I think at one point or another, everybody on the team drives me crazy, just like I'm sure I drive them crazy too. I think it's mutual. I think at times we all drive each other crazy. Like my staff, they drive me crazy sometimes too. But they're great."

Good dodge.

There is nowhere for a player to hide, though, when facing Bynum-level scrutiny -- deliver two impressive showings and have the dedication called into question with a bad half. It's the price of being a Laker star, of being the foundation of the Lakers future, and of a contract that pays $14.9 million this season. It comes with the unique territory.

A lot is expected of Bynum, to be sure. Including being ready to play.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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