HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The sight of Andrew Bynum‘s giant body crumpling to the floor Tuesday night should have been enough to frighten Lakers fans while providing a glimmer of hope for fans of contenders everywhere else.
Even if it was just a momentary jolt, Bynum hyperextending his surgically repaired right knee in the second quarter while simply running down the floor, reminded the Lakers — and everyone around the league — just how fragile a team’s title hopes can be.
Bynum said he’s fine, telling my main man Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times, “It’s not really that bad. It was painful right when it happened but it’s not that bad right now.”
The Lakers’ three-peat bid takes a serious blow if Bynum is hobbled in any way. He’ll have an MRI today to determine the extent of the damage, but Lakers coach Phil Jackson sounds like he’s already prepared to work without Bynum for at least a couple of games.
“He could be out a couple games,” Jackson said. “There could be a bone bruise involved when you hyperextend the knee. His reassurance was saying, ‘I’m going to be OK.’ I think that he might have an idea about it because he’s been through this before.”
The Lakers aren’t the only team with a lot riding on Bynum’s knee. The entire Western Conference playoff race will rest on the health of their big man in the middle. The Lakers, who snapped their five-game losing streak against the Spurs last night, aren’t nearly as intimidating without a healthy Bynum as they would be with him.
Toss in the fact that Steve Blake has chicken pox and Matt Barnes has a sore right knee, and there is potentially much more to be worried about if you’re the Lakers. But nothing sends the Lakers’ blood pressure rising like seeing Bynum limp off the floor.
It was his play during their post-All-Star break tear that changed the way we all looked at the once lumbering two-time defending champs this season. Bynum played as well as he has in his pro career during the Lakers’ 17-1 run that ended at the start of that five-game slide, as he averaged 11.5 points, 12.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in his first 21 games after the break.
As crucial as Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Ron Artest and Derek Fisher are to the Lakers’ title hopes, Bynum is the one player that pushed them over the top of the rest of the contender crowd — in the Western Conference and beyond.
“He allows us to be the dominant team we’re capable of being,” Fisher told ESPNLosAngeles.com after the game. “It’s hard to think about not having him for any significant length of time. It was tough to see. He’s so important to what we do, so to even think for a second that he might be out, the impact that would have on him after all of his work, it’s tough to deal with in the moment.”
Only time will tell.