8 minutes. 2 points, 2 rebounds, 4 fouls.
That was Andrew Bynum's line from last night's game vs. the Phoenix Suns. 4 fouls in 8 minutes ... Travis Knight thinks that's awful. I'm not trying to throw Drew under the bus here, I don't think any of us believe his performance was indicative of anything besides the fact that he's well below 100%. However, with Drew's injury making it so he struggles to keep up with even Robin Lopez, the Lakers are put in an unenviable position. Phil Jackson mentioned that AB might not even play in Game 4, and that's bad news for all of us.
The Lakers do not have what you would call a deep roster, and nowhere is the roster thinner than at the top. It seems odd to consider the Lakers as thin in the post, since they have, without question, the best combination of bigs in the league. But, in this case, quality != depth (read "!" as not, for those of you who don't get down with the computer science). LO, Pau, and Drew (when healthy) are all capable of putting up All-Star numbers on any given night, but the Lakers are in trouble anytime two of them are off the court. The drop off in talent between the 3rd big and the 4th is equivalent to the Grand Canyon.
There are two ways for this "big" problem to ruin the Lakers chances. First of all, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom can't play the entire game. Gasol has great stamina, but he played 45 minutes in last night's contest, but that can't keep up against the Phoenix Suns' run-and-gun attack. Phil Jackson really played with fire last night, sensing that a Game 3 victory would mean a short series, and playing both Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant the entire 2nd half. His gambit didn't work, and there may be negative side effects, both because the Suns are a team that will test your stamina, and because the games in this series will now come hot and heavy until we have a resolution. That said, since the Suns lack enough inside presence to really punish the Lakers, PJ can get away with playing Ron Artest as a power forward and Kobe Bryant at the small forward to give Pau and or Lamar a breather without having to play someone who is worth every cent of the minimum contract he's got.
No, the real danger in removing Andrew Bynum from the equation up front is that the Lakers will lack the capability to deal with an attack from a pack of wild zebras (they travel in 3s). In game 3, Amar'e Stouemire was oh-so-aggressive, and he was oh-so-rewarded for that aggression. He was one more foul call from shooting as many free throws as the entire Laker squad, with 18 trips to the charity stripe (the Lakers shot 20 as a team). If AB is going to be limited to the nth degree, or even absent entirely from the proceedings, and either Pau or LO pick up quick fouls, the Lakers will be forced to give significant time to either Josh Powell or DJ Mbenga. As much as I love those guys (OK, just DJ), they would both be considered a liability of Channing Frye proportions on the court.
It's especially important to limit minutes to DJ and Powell because the Suns might just think they have something with the zone defense that limited the Lakers enough for Phoenix to pull away. The Lakers bombed away without success in Game 3, and Phil Jackson is sure to have the team better prepared to deal with the zone in Game 4. However, beating a zone is predicated on good ball movement and smart decisions, neither of which fits into JP and DJ's wheelhouse. The prospect of watching those guys launch 20 footers is making me queasy.
Some other quick game notes:
- Robin Lopez last night was the equivalent of the Lakers outside shooting for the first two games. Nice job, but I'm going to have to see it again to believe he's a major threat. He showed a lot more than you'd expect offensively, and I'm pretty sure he nailed a 15 foot jump shot that slipped out of his hand as he went up. Just one of those nights. And that "accidental" elbow was hilarious.
- I'm worried that the Suns won a game in which they shot poorly from 3, but not that worried, because the Lakers also shot quite poorly from 3. Both of those things qualify as an anomaly right now.
- Late in the 1st half, I was struck by the fact that it's quite rare for Lamar Odom to be such a detriment to the Lakers. There are plenty of games where LO disappears, but the decisions he was making and the fouls he was taking were actually harmful to the Lakers' cause. He came back with a decent stretch in the 2nd half, but that was a bad game for LO, as compared to a game in which he disappears.
- One more thing: more so even than Ron Artest, LO needs to stop chucking 3s. Artest may have the worse percentage over the entire playoffs, but its his job in the triangle to take open 3s, and he's also trending upward. LO has been consistently poor from downtown, and every bomb he attempts is a bad idea, only because our offensive rebounding is a big strength and he can't board his own 3 pt attempts.
- Slowly but surely, we've seen an uptick in bad decisions by Shannon Brown. Through the first two rounds, his relatively smart play was a pleasant surprise. In this series, he's made a couple of bone headed decisions, none worse than the foul on Leandro Barbosa 60 feet from the basket with 1.5 seconds left on the clock going into halftime. Of course it was a weak call, but why even give them the opportunity to call it?
- Those dreams of a short series certainly aren't dead, but as the adage says, a series doesn't start until somebody wins on the road. This series is in position to go seven games as much as it is in position to go 5.