Benching Bynum could be Lakers' best move

Johnny Ludden
Yahoo Sports
Yahoo! Sports
Benching Bynum could be Lakers' best move
Andrew Bynum played just eight minutes and committed four fouls in L.A.'s Game 3 loss

PHOENIX – Andrew Bynum(notes) didn't want to hear about the Phoenix Suns' zone defense or any adjustments his Los Angeles Lakers didn't or did make. No, Bynum said as he stood in front of his locker Sunday evening. This was on him.

The Lakers had gone eight games and a month without losing, and now they'd suddenly found themselves in a fight in the Western Conference finals. For that, Bynum saw only one person to blame: himself.

"I got abused," he said, "so we lost the game."

Amar'e Stoudemire(notes) ripped through the Lakers for 42 points with Bynum contributing little more than four fouls in eight listless minutes. Afterward, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said he'd seen enough from his young center to wonder whether it's worth even putting him on the floor for Tuesday's Game 4. Bynum convinced him otherwise Monday morning, but his play in Game 3 hardly inspired confidence.

"I think he was ineffective," Jackson said.

Said Bynum: "That was obvious."

Bynum has labored since tearing cartilage in his right knee at the end of the Lakers' first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He pointedly refused to blame his latest problems on the injury, but this much is clear: The Lakers can't depend on him now and maybe even less so should they advance to the NBA Finals and play the Boston Celtics.

Sitting Bynum isn't guaranteed to help – he just had three days off, and that failed to spark an uptick in his production – but it also couldn't hurt, given his ongoing struggles. The Lakers are used to playing without Bynum and they shouldn't need him to beat the Suns, whose quick pace only exacerbates his ineffectiveness.

"This is a tough series for him to play in because of how much they run," Kobe Bryant(notes) said. "He's capable of running and keeping up with these guys when he's healthy."

Bynum isn't healthy, and that's the Lakers' dilemma: Would they be better-served giving him another week off in hopes he'll be able to provide more help in the Finals? These Suns are more physical than their seven-seconds-or-less predecessors, especially with Robin Lopez(notes) now lining up next to Stoudemire, but they also can't match the brutishness of Kendrick Perkins(notes) and the rest of the Celtics' big men. And with Rajon Rondo(notes) continuing to splinter defenses, the Lakers' backline will be counted on to protect the rim.

That's assuming the Lakers reach the Finals, which seemed only a little less certain Sunday night than Bynum had indicated a day earlier. Asked after Saturday's practice about the potential of a Lakers-Celtics reunion, Bynum sounded like he was already looking forward to the matchup.

"It's going to be amazing playing against those guys again," Bynum said. "Because we lost [in 2008], we're going to have a lot of fuel and a lot of ammo. They're definitely a great team. They have great veterans on their squad.

"The first step is closing out Game 3, and then after that, we'll be focusing."

Bynum neglected to mention the little matter of Game 4, which isn't so little now that the Suns are in position to tie the series. "It was a moment we call a brain fart in our business," Jackson said of Bynum's comments. "He wasn't thinking too clearly."

Bynum didn't emerge from his fog by tip-off, either. He picked up his first foul less than two minutes into the game and No. 2 followed a minute later. He didn't last any longer to start the second quarter and foul No. 4 came just 80 seconds into the second half.

Bynum was a step late in his defensive rotations, but he wouldn't blame his knee, instead saying he didn't position himself properly to rotate. It's a noble gesture, but also not entirely true. He came into these playoffs off an Achilles injury, and now he's clearly been slowed by his knee, no matter how much he wants to tell everyone otherwise.

"No excuses," he said. "I feel a little pain, it goes away. I feel a little pain, it goes away.

"I just need to play better."

Or sit. Bynum said he wants to keep playing, and he doubts Jackson is seriously considering holding him out of Game 4. More rest, he insists, isn't going to improve the knee.

"It's not going to do anything," Bynum said. "The surgery is going to do something. This is probably more so to motivate me and get me to play better."

Bynum doesn't regret his decision to put off arthroscopic surgery. He wasn't confident the projected one- to two-week timeline for recovery would stick. And even if he didn't need a long layoff, he couldn't be sure how strong his knee would feel once he did return.

Jackson spoke with Bynum Monday morning and said he plans to play him in Game 4. "He'll be fine," Jackson said. If so, that will be a change. So far, Bynum hasn't fit well in this series. Lamar Odom(notes) created matchup problems for the Suns in the first two games, and the Lakers likely could have won Game 3, too, had he played at a somewhat comparable level. Instead, he fouled out with more than three minutes remaining. Bynum replaced Odom but was back on the bench a minute later.

The question for the Lakers: How much are they hurting their championship hopes by not keeping him there?