Welcome Back, Andrew!
Posted by hiphopmama on April 9, 2009
Denver 102, LA Lakers 116
How much have we missed Andrew Bynum? It’s hard to quantify exactly, especially when you consider how good our record without him has been. But it only took one game with him back to see how much he helps our line-up, even hobbled and out of shape after missing 32 games, because of how much improved our rotation is when he’s available. It’s a tough blow for Odom to be sent back to the bench after performing admirably in Drew’s absence, but how much better is our second unit with Lamar as playmaker and sparkplug. It will be an adjustment, to be sure, but I can’t tell you how relieved I was to see Luke, Lamar, Sasha, and Shannon Brown/Jordan Farmar in there with Pau while Kobe got a rest. That’s a second unit I can live with. In fact, now that Odom is coming off the bench, I could see Walton moving back into the starting line-up because we don’t need him to settle the subs as much with Lamar out there to run the offense. That makes our second unit that much more dangerous, especially because Ariza seems to thrive on catching teams off guard when he comes off the bench. The possibilities are endless.
The game itself deviated from the standard Laker script slightly. Instead of building a big lead in the second half and then nearly blowing it late, we maintained a middling lead for most of the game and then slowly put it out of reach over the course of the second half. It was a much less nerve-wracking storyline than the usual one, and it made Andrew’s return a more settling one as we got to work him in in spots without putting too much pressure on him on the production end. We did give up one lead, in the second quarter, when we watched the Nuggets tie it up at the halftime buzzer despite being generally outplayed by us. Actually, that’s not entirely fair, as we shot poorly and Denver did their part by hanging around. Our entire advantage boiled down to offensive rebounding and foul shooting in the first half, but we picked up the defense in the second and it helped spark the offense. From there, it was just a matter of working up the lead, and Denver’s propensity to get into foul trouble only helped matters. Dahntay Jones started the foul-fest by picking up three quick ones in the first couple minutes of the third quarter, which sent him to the bench and helped us get into the penalty by the six-minute mark. Carmelo followed shortly thereafter with his fourth, as did Johan Petro. When Kobe decided to take the game over in the fourth, it just sealed the deal. If this is the best the Western Conference has to offer, I’m not particularly worried.
Aside from Bynum’s return, my favorite development in this game was the continued emergence of Shannon Brown. Perhaps more important was the evidence of Phil’s growing trust in the young guard, as he was the first man off the bench when Fisher picked up two quick fouls in the first quarter. He didn’t just spell Fish, though. He played some solid minutes, hitting a three, getting fouled on another three-point effort for a few free throws, and playing some feisty defense. I’m not entirely sure why, since he hasn’t proven himself completely yet, but I like seeing Brown off that bench before Vujacic and Farmar, maybe just because I know he’s more likely to stay within the established system and not go off on some individual tangent and kill our momentum. It’s nice that some of our old hands are comfortable enough to want to improvise a little, but when you’re a role player, you need to know your role and pick your spots. Sasha and Jordan have both been guilty of forgetting that at times this year, so maybe a stint further down the bench will do them some good.
Andrew played just 21 minutes and took a little while to warm up, quite understandably. His timing looked off in the early going, as did his footwork, but he picked it up considerably in the second half and made a number of good shots in addition to his solid rebounding. He shot 7-for-11 for 16 points and grabbed 7 rebounds, 4 of them offensive, and helped us get the early advantage on the boards which set the tone for the whole game. You couldn’t have asked for anything more in his first game back, and I only expect him to get stronger and more comfortable with each progressive game. With three games to go before the playoffs start, he should be able to do a little work to get his legs back under him, and we can work him back in slowly throughout the first couple rounds. With San Antonio falling by the wayside due to injury problems, I feel much more comfortable with the idea that he’ll need some extra time. His mere presence on the roster aids us considerably.
No highlights available yet. Damn, this game went late! I even caught up with the live broadcast and had to sit through commercials like some common TV viewer. It’s been so long since I’ve been able to watch a game live that I’ve lost all patience with commercial breaks. Oh well. I can handle it in a win. Back tomorrow for Portland. Keep your fingers crossed as we enter that Bermuda friggin’ Triangle known as the Rose Garden. By the way, how did the Blazers end up with such a decent name for their arena? Sure as hell beats Amway Arena.