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Lakers 103, Wizards 89: Bynum Returns, Washington Burns


Let's get to the important stuff first: Andrew Bynum did indeed play tonight, and he looked good doing so. The Laker big man had been in the shop since knee surgery in late July. This evening in Washington he took the court for the first time since then, entering the game about halfway through the first quarter. He clocked 17 minutes total, and though he was understandably a bit rusty, there was a lot to like in what we saw from him. He made some tasty contributions in the champs' 103 to 89 victory over the very understaffed Wizards.

Initially the most striking thing about seeing Drew again is how big he looked. Not Kirstie Alley big or Shawn-Kemp-after-the-1999-lockout big, but big like my ripped quads and 17-inch biceps. (*flexes in mirror before returning to keyboard*) During his convalesence Drew clearly worked hard to stay fit and maintain his upper-body strength. He also seemed pretty mobile tonight, getting up and down the floor well and sliding laterally in the paint. He made his presence felt around the cup with a couple blocked shots and a few others that he altered. Drew missed four of five field-goal attempts and three of eight from the line, so his shooting touch isn't quite there yet, but that should come around soon.

The Wizards are the right opponent for him to have faced in his first game back. Andray Blatche sat out with soreness in his left knee, so their front line was lacking to begin with. It got even lackinger about five minutes in, when Yi Jianlian called it a night with a sprained right knee. Flip Saunders was forced to assign heavy playing time to reserves Trevor Booker, Kevin Seraphin and Hilton Armstrong, which gave the Lakers the luxury of imposing their will on the interior. Throw in the injury absence of point guard John Wall, and it's no surprise this one turned into a casual romp for the purp and yellow.

Early on the Lakers had a little trouble finding the hoop. They shot only 6 for 16 in the first quarter and finished the period down two. Already, however, they were developing a big advantage at the free-throw line, making 9 of 13 attempts. Over the course of the game this would become a critical advantage, as the Wizards couldn't manage to play D without grabbing and hacking. The Lakers would rack up 40 FTAs, their highest single-game total this season. Though they missed 11 of them - at one point Kobe Bryant missed three straight, which is not something I thought I'd ever have to type - the 29 they converted was still way more than the meager 16 Washington was even permitted to attempt.

In the second quarter the champs got it humming. A lineup of Steve Blake, Shannon Brown, Matt Barnes, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol began the period with a 21-to-6 surge that established a double-digit working margin. The key in this stretch was some splendid ball movement. Blake was diligent about feeding Pau in the post, and from there Pau carved up the Wizards' D with his incisive passing. He finished the night with a well-rounded stat line of 16 points on 14 shots (including free-throw possessions), seven assists and nine rebounds.

Toward the end of the second period, Nick Young warmed up to give the Wizards' attack some badly needed sting. His 17 first-half points, generated mostly off pick-and-roll sets initiated from the left elbow, kept the Wizards kind of within shouting range. In the third quarter the Laker D started running guys at Young more attentively. He would just two points in the third on 1-for-4 shooting and would add only one more bucket in the fourth. JaVale McGee charged unto the breach with eight points and three offensive boards in the third period, but it wasn't nearly enough to keep pace with a Laker offensive onslaught led by the one they call "Kobe."

Kobe had been fairly quiet in the first half. After the break, he decided to put the game away quickly and get himself some early rest. He scored 16 points in the third on just nine shots. In one sequence he scored 11 straight for the Lakers. His three-ball off a behind-the-back feed from Odom, which you can check out at the 0:36 mark of the highlight reel below, put the good guys up 16 late in the third and effectively snuffed out the home team's comeback aspirations. The fourth was all garbagio time. Kobe didn't play after the third, and all the starters except Lamar got plenty of rest, which will no doubt benefit them come tomorrow evening's contest in Indiana.

Tonight's game was, in all likelihood, the final one in a Lakers uniform for Sasha Vujacic. His trade to the Nets won't become official until tomorrow, so he remained on the bench in his warmups. He didn't look so delighted to be heading to Jersey, and it's kind of unfortunate that he had to spend the night with cameras on him. Phil Jackson didn't put him into the game, which was understandable, as God forbid a freak injury would scuttle the deal.

Around here we've taken plenty of shots at Sasha's play, most of them fully justified. That doesn't mean we won't miss having him around. Through the ups and downs of Sasha's career with the Lakers he's always seemed like a solid teammate. He never made much of a stink as his playing time dwindled into nothingness. I know a few people who've run across him and Maria around town here in Los Angeles, and they all tell me that the two of them are incredibly nice and gracious with their time. We'll always appreciate the laughs he gave us - recall that the origin myth of Brian Shaw, Omnipotent One, arose out of his ridiculous dustup with Sasha last season - and we'll never, ever forget the free throws he sank at the end of Game Seven.

So Godspeed, Sasha. We wish you the best of fortunes in Jersey, and we'll be leading the standing O when the Nets visit Staples Center on January 14th.











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