Do you know anyone who predicted that the 2008 NBA Finals would feature the Lakers verses the Celtics? Me neither.
As of last night, the Lakers and the Celtics have the best records in the West and East respectively. Actually, the Lakers are tied with the Suns for the best record in the Western Conference, but the Lakers have beaten the Suns both times they’ve met this year, so the Lakers would have the number 1 seed in the West if the playoffs were to start today.
But of course, the playoffs do NOT start today, and which is a good thing for the Lakers, since their promising young center, Andrew Bynum is expected to miss at least the next 27 games due to a knee injury.
However, if the Lakers start losing, it will be hard to know how much of that is because Bynum is gone, and how much of it is due to their schedule.
The Lakers next games are against Phoenix, Denver, San Antonio, Dallas and Cleveland. Then, after a home game against the Knicks, the Lakers embark on a grueling, nine-game road trip January 31 at Detroit. The Lakers only have 3 home games in February.
It’s possible that the difficulty of their coming schedule would have slid the Lakers back down the standings a bit anyway, but Kobe might beg to differ.
After last night’s overtime squeaker over the lowly Sonics, Kobe Bryant told KCAL TV, “We’re a championship-caliber team when [Andrew Bynum] is in the lineup.”
Wow, what a reversal! It takes a big man to admit he is wrong, and Kobe seems to be that man.
When Kobe trashed Bynum this last summer, Bynum’s numbers were about half of what they are this year, and most of us would have agreed that Jason Kidd or Jermaine O’Neal would have helped the Lakers more than Bynum had up until that point.
Kobe has already publicly acknowledged he should not have publicly trashed his teammate like he did, but sometimes people can turn criticism into a rallying cry or a wake up call of sorts.
It is reminiscent of when Larry Bird called out the Celtics for not being very tough after their loss to the Lakers in game 3 of the 1984 NBA Finals. Larry was right, but rather than whine about Larry publicly trashing them, Larry’s teammates came back with a vengeance.
To his credit, Andrew Bynum has likewise risen to the challenge.
This year, Andrew Bynum:
- Leads the entire NBA in field goal percentage
- Ranks #2 in the NBA in efficiency rating per 48 minutes
- Is #4 in the NBA in rebounds per 48 minutes
- Is #11 in the NBA in rebounds
- Is #11 in the NBA in double doubles
- Is #9 in the NBA in blocks
And Andrew Bynum is improving as the season goes on. Since 2008 started and before getting hurt, Bynum:
- Has averaged 70% shooting
- Averaged 17.4 points per game
- Averaged 12 rebounds per game
- Averaged 2.8 blocks per game
Bynum’s growing reputation has forced opposing defenses to pay more attention to him, making the game easier for the rest of the Lakers.
And yet Andrew Bynum is not even listed as someone you can vote into the All Star Game. Granted, Bynum will never draw more votes than Yao Ming, but Andrew Bynum is at least as deserving to be on the ballot as is Andris Biedrins, Brad Miller, Erick Dampier, Mehmet Okur, Pau Gasol, LaMarcus Aldridge, Tyson Chandler, Marcus Camby, and Chris Kaman.
This year Andrew Bynum has almost doubled his averages from last year and is everyone’s leading candidate for most improved player.
At age 20, there seems to be plenty of improvement ahead of Bynum. After Drew’s last outing, a 25 points, 17 rebounds performance, he said, “I’m dying for a 20 and 20 game. I’ve been so close like that two, three times. Philly, this game, and I think another game I got like 10 boards in the first quarter and finished with 11.”
You’ve got to love how he’s set goals for himself and his improvement, and makes a real effort to reach them.
Jordan and Pippen. O’Neal and Bryant. And now Bryant and Bynum … has Phil Jackson found his 3rd dynamic duo?