The purple and gold’s starting frontline of Lamar Odom, Vladimir Radmanovic and Pau Gasol have the height necessary to compete in glass-cleaning scrums above the rim, but as it turns out, rebounding is like runway modeling -- height is only part of the equation.
Of course, the battle of the boards wasn’t the only facet of the game that did L.A.’s title hopes in. The other pesky deficiency for the Lake Show was defense – both adjusting to the D being thrown Kobe Bryant’s way by the Boston Stranglers and the defense being implemented by Phil Jackson’s contingent in trying to stop the Big Three and the C’s three-point shooting as a team.
Bryant acknowledged the two problem areas immediately after Game 6. “I think if we’re going to learn anything from this series is that we can’t expect to win a championship by focusing on the offensive end,” Bryant said. “We have to be able to hold people down as well. We’re pretty good at it, but I think that we can be much better.”
When asked if getting a healthy Andrew Bynum back would be the key to turning those weaknesses into strengths, Kobe conceded that Bynum gives his team “rebounding and a shot-blocker in the middle – he solves a couple of those [problems].”
The 7-foot, 285-pound Bynum enters training camp at 100 percent after spending the offseason rehabbing from the dislocated kneecap he suffered in January. Just 20-years old, Bynum is improving not just by the day, but by the minute, the step, the breath, the blink. He averaged 13.1 points and 10.2 rebounds in the 35 games he played in 2007-08, but was just hitting his stride before going down with the injury as he put up 17.3 points and 12.2 boards in the six games he played after the New Year.
The Black Mamba took his new-found defensive mantra with him to Beijing where he competed in the Olympics as a member of the U.S. Senior Men’s National Basketball Team. Bryant gave himself a new nickname, “The Doberman,” and took it upon himself to lockdown the opposing team’s most potent offensive weapon.
If Bynum does return to form, L.A. trots out 20 feet and 10 inches of men at the starting Three, Four and Five positions with a backcourt that features the reigning league MVP in Kobe and Derek Fisher, a great leader by example, at the point.
L.A. is the favorite to repeat as the top team in the West, although don’t expect Bynum’s return to translate to many more wins than the 57 the Lakers racked up last season. In the deep-as-Chicago-pizza West, reaching 60 wins would be like a team hitting the hallowed 70 mark any other year.
One thing is for sure, if the Lakers are going to defend their place as the Western Conference representative in The Finals, it’s going to come down to defense.
-- Dave McMenamin