Bynum Delayed Is Bynum Denied

bynum05

As the Lakers slouch toward the end of an uninspired road trip, the status of Andrew Bynum is a festering problem. The convalescent big man has now missed five games with a strained Achilles tendon - tonight's game against the Atlanta Hawks will make it six - and there's no timetable for his return. Yes, my friends, once again a Laker injury is dragging out longer than we were led to expect. You may remember this feeling of impotent rage from Bynum's first knee injury in 2008, his second knee injury in 2009, Pau Gasol's hamstring injury at the beginning of this season and Kobe Bryant's hand injury from earlier this year.

On Monday, Phil Jackson called Bynum's continued absence his biggest concern about the team. Certainly, having Drew on the court would be useful tonight, as the Hawks, in Al Horford, have the type of center that Drew can dominate. Horford's a productive player, but he's undersized, and when Atlanta visited Staples way back on November 1, Bynum scored 21 easy pointages and held Horford to 3-for-8 shooting. The Lakers won that game, 118 to 110. Kobe scored 41 and, at one point in the fourth quarter, the Lakers led by 24. Tonight's contest, I feel safe in predicting, will be more difficult.

The Hawks are a legit second-tier NBA power. Right now they're tussling with the Celtics for the third seed in the East and the theoretical pleasure of avoiding Cleveland until the Conference Finals. They've come this far on the strength of an excellent offense. After placing 10th in the league in offensive efficiency in 2008-09, they've jumped to third this year. The Hawks turn the ball over less than anyone in the NBA, and they've become a strong offensive rebounding team. Their possessions seem to last forever.

One piece of good news for the Lakers is that the point-guard matchup tonight is nearly so dire as we've become accustomed to seeing. Mike Bibby isn't that much younger than Derek Fisher, and he's not a penetrator or high-volume shooter at this stage of his career. In fact, one of the misconceptions about the Hawks is that they're a young team. (Mike Bresnahan described them as such in the Los Angeles Times yesterday.) Weighted by playing time, their mean player age is just slightly below the league average. Josh Smith and Horford are youngish, but the Hawks give significant minutes to Bibby, Jamal Crawford and Maurice Evans, all of whom are on the wrong side of 30. At age 28, Joe Johnson isn't exactly an up-and-comer, either.

The Atlanta offense runs mostly through Johnson, Crawford and Smith. Their system doesn't generate what we'd normally think of as high-efficiency shots; they're below average in both looks at the rim and three-point attempts. But it all works because, as mentioned, they take of the pumpkin and snag their own misses. Ron Artest will be given responsibility for checking Johnson and Crawford. This will allow Kobe the lighter task of sticking with low-usage wings Evans and Marvin Williams. The battle between Smith and Lamar Odom will be a fascinating one. Odom will need to activate rebounding-demon mode to keep Smith, Horford and Zaza Pachulia off the glass.

As for the Laker offense, I'm looking for Kobe to put up a big number tonight. He knows the team is drifting. He knows they have wounds that need cauterizing. He knows the Hawks don't have any great perimeter stoppers. Williams is an average defender on the wing; Crawford and Johnson are worse. I think Kobe will see this as a chance to draw a line under the Lakers' road problems and return to L.A. with morale in tact.

Hey, here's something I more or less forgot: Pau was drafted by Atlanta. I always think of him as having been a Memphis draftee, for obvious if apparently mistaken reasons, as the Hawks traded him to the Grizzlies in a draft-night deal for Shareef Abdur-Rahim. Good swap, Atlanta front office! And that bit of sarcasm is from someone who actually liked Shareef's game.

Anyhoo, Pau's going to be tested by Horford and Zaza. Those guys will get physical and try to punk him. There will be elbows. Maybe blood. Pau will have to absorb it and stay within his game. He was all too visibly irked with the refs on Monday night when he felt he wasn't getting whistles. He needs to keep playing smart and wait for the make-up calls.

Atlanta is quite a formidable home team. They're 30-7 and have won eight in a row in Philips Arena. In recognition of their home swagger and the Lakers' recent struggles, the Hawks have been installed by Vegas as a 1½-point favorite. Bet wisely, fellow gambling addicts.

Lakers

Hawks

RECORD

54-20 (2)

47-26 (7)

NET POINTS PER GAME

+5.6 (4)

+4.6 (6)

PACE

93.2 (12)

90.4 (27)

OFFENSIVE RATING

109.1 (10)

111.7 (3)

Turnover Rate (Off.)

12.5% (5)

11.4% (1)

FTA/FGA (Off.)

0.29 (20)

0.29 (23)

Free-Throw %

76.6 (12)

76.1 (16)

3PT FGA/FGA (Off.)

0.23 (12)

0.21 (18)

3PT% (Off.)

34.2 (21)

36.1 (11)

Effective FG% (Off.)

49.9 (14)

50.4 (13)

True Shooting% (Off.)

54.2 (15)

54.5 (12)

Off Rebounding Rate

27.6% (9)

28.0% (6)

DEFENSIVE RATING

103.1 (5)

106.7 (13)

Turnover Rate (Def.)

13.4% (18)

13.5% (13)

FTA/FGA (Def.)

0.26 (1)

0.28 (7)

3PT FGA/FGA (Def.)

0.23 (22)

0.21 (7)

3PT% (Def.)

32.4 (1)

34.4 (9)

Effective FG% (Def.)

48.1 (5)

49.9 (16)

True Shooting% (Def.)

51.9 (2)

53.7 (12)

Def Rebounding Rate

74.6% (8)

72.5% (25)

Numbers in parentheses indicate league rank. All numbers courtesy of Basketball Reference and HoopData. Thanks to Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus for the Effective Age numbers.

Follow Dex on Twitter here.

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