And, boy, is he playing big.
Bynum bulled his way inside to 27 points and 15 rebounds, providing the perfect complement to Kobe Bryant and his 30 points, and the Lakers started a six-game road trip with a 132-119 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night.
Truly beginning to blossom in his fourth season, Bynum—who could only watch with an injured left knee while the Lakers were outmanned in the NBA finals last June by the Boston Celtics—notched his fifth straight double-double.
“He looks very confident in there right now, and he’s playing above the crowd, so to speak, in many ways,” coach Phil Jackson said. “I think this was a stepping out point for him.”
Minnesota’s recent resurgence has been fueled by rebounding and reliable inside play, but L.A. was simply too deep and too tall. Al Jefferson finished with 34 points and 13 rebounds, but Bynum proved to be just a bit stronger inside. The Lakers have another 7-footer, Pau Gasol, who backed up his All-Star selection with 21 points and nine rebounds.
“They’re bigger than they look,” Jefferson said. “Long and big.”
Randy Foye scored 27 points for the Wolves, who rallied from a 20-point hole with an 18-7 run in the fourth quarter but couldn’t get any closer. This was the most points they’ve allowed in regulation this season; they lost their sixth straight game to the Lakers.
Bynum, the reigning Western Conference player of the week, helped the Lakers make up for a frustrating double-overtime loss at home to Charlotte on Tuesday. Jackson proclaimed before the game his players had flushed that experience “down the toilet” and forgotten about it, and they proved him right.
Bynum continued his surge by playing with consistent command of the area around the hoop, which is just what Shaquille O’Neal used to do for Jackson, Bryant and the Lakers when they won three straight titles earlier this decade. And Bynum can make his free throws: 7-for-8 from the line.
“We’re starting to expect it from him because he’s being aggressive. He’s being assertive,” Bryant said. “He’s finding his niche and where he can operate in the offense. I like it. I like it a lot.”
Bryant sparked the Lakers’ surge in the third quarter, swishing a 3-pointer and leaving his wrist cocked in Foye’s face for emphasis while the lead stretched to 91-73. Minnesota settled for too many jumpers.
“Some teams don’t have one guy that can post up and play the center position,” Bynum said. “We actually have two that can do it pretty well. I think the game plan should always be to go inside. We know what Kobe can do. … Offensively I think we’ve kind of figured it out and we know what’s going to happen.”
Ryan Gomes and Kevin Love each added 14 points for the Wolves, who blew a late lead and lost to Detroit on Wednesday after starting 2009 with a 10-2 record. This brutal three-game stretch concludes Sunday afternoon at defending champion Boston.
“I told our guys that the way they make the playoffs is to have winning months,” coach Kevin McHale said. “Not winning days. Not winning weeks. Winning months. … You’ve got to sustain it.”
Thanks to Gomes and Jefferson’s inside touch, the Wolves stayed with the Lakers and came two points short of their season high for the first half— taking a 64-60 deficit into the locker room. In the final minute, while Bynum flashed his long arms for the ball in the lane, Gomes pestered Bryant for a solid 20 seconds and forced an off-target shot by the perennial All-Star at the end of the possession. But the second half was another story for Minnesota.
Lakers F Trevor Ariza was cleared—he had eight points in 23 minutes— after a CT scan and MRI test came back with no problems. He left Tuesday’s game with a concussion, but Jackson said Ariza was first hit in the head Sunday against San Antonio. … Minnesota G Sebastian Teflair’s availability was in question again after getting kneed in the thigh for a second straight game on Wednesday, but he had 10 points in 32 minutes. … The All-Star break won’t be a break for the Lakers’ coaching staff, which will run the Western Conference team. Jackson didn’t hide his disinterest in a busy All-Star weekend in Phoenix, but he showed a sense of humor. Asked if he’ll play Bryant and his former-teammate-turned-foe O’Neal together in the exhibition. “Of course,” Jackson said, smiling. “I wouldn’t miss that opportunity for the world.” … The crowd was announced at 19,111, the largest of the season. The Wolves entered the night ranked 26th in the league in home attendance, with an average crowd of 13,754 per game.