Andrew Bynum has had no trouble overpowering two of the worst teams in the NBA this week. He’ll now try to continue his recent dominance against one of the league’s best as the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Lakers host the Southwest Division-leading San Antonio Spurs on Sunday.
Los Angeles (34-8) and San Antonio (29-13) have combined for nine of the last 10 Western Conference titles and they are again in the mix for the top seed.
The Lakers, who have a five-game lead atop the West over the second-place Spurs, eliminated San Antonio in five games from last season’s conference finals, and now boast a threat they didn’t even have for that series.
Bynum missed the second half of last season and the playoffs with a left knee injury, but has been a force in the paint lately.
After finishing with a career-high 42 points and 15 rebounds in a 108-97 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Wednesday, Bynum had 23 points and 14 boards in Thursday’s 117-97 victory over Washington - the Lakers’ third straight win.
“I’m happy for him. If Andrew can continue to have that type of presence in the middle - no matter who the other team is - we’re going to be a much better team,” Lakers point guard Derek Fisher said. “He seems to just be getting more comfortable on the court, physically.”
Bynum is 25-of-36 from the floor in his last two games, and played just 27 minutes against the Wizards as coach Phil Jackson gave his starters extra rest in the easy win.
“We went through a stretch where teams felt like they could double off Pau (Gasol), but we made them pay,” Kobe Bryant said. “Now they’re trying to do the same thing with Andrew, so we’re making them pay.”
Bynum had 18 points and only three rebounds in the Lakers’ 112-111 road loss to the Spurs on Jan. 14, their first meeting since last season’s playoffs. That is the only game in Bynum’s career Los Angeles has lost when its 7-foot center has scored at least 18 points. The Lakers are 18-1 in such games.
In last week’s meeting, Bryant hit a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left to give the Lakers a two-point lead, but Roger Mason completed a three-point play two seconds later to give San Antonio the lead for good.
Bryant, selected to start in the All-Star game for the 11th consecutive season on Thursday, finished with 29 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds in the loss to the Spurs. He had 11 points, five assists and four rebounds in 28 minutes on Thursday after averaging 23.8 points, 11.3 assists and 9.0 boards in his previous four games, with two triple-doubles.
San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, named to his 10th consecutive All-Star team, had 30 points and 15 rebounds in Friday’s 94-91 win over New Jersey.
Duncan, averaging 28.5 points on 63.9 percent shooting in his last two games, had 20 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in the win over the Lakers.
The Spurs have won four straight games and now embark on a difficult three-game road trip that also takes them to Utah and Phoenix.
“This is going to be a tough schedule,” said Tony Parker, who had 20 points in the win over Los Angeles last week. “You don’t want to get in that position where you lose the game before the road trip. Now we can focus and have a big game in L.A.”
San Antonio, which has won five of its last six road games, has lost its last five games at Staples Center against the Lakers, including playoffs.