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Lakers 97, Magic 84: Andrew Bynum is no man's "Lite"

At some point around the time when the internet became a player in the way we watch, discuss, and enjoy sports, comparing players against similar versions of themselves became not just another way to describe said player's talents. It became a requirement. It started, perhaps, with looking for the "next" player. Grant Hill is the next Jordan, wait no, Kobe Bryant is ... Vince Carter is ... Tracy McGrady is ... Kobe Bryant is again. Eddy Curry is the next Shaq ... er the next Robert "Tractor" Traylor. The next en vogue comparative term was to be described as a poor man's version. Dirk Nowitzki is a poor man's Larry Bird; or Hakim Warrick is a (very) poor man's Amare Stoudemire. Next, we added the term "lite" as in, Darren Collison played like Chris Paul lite when Paul was out, or, as we've been deluged with recently (and yes, SSR has been doing some of the deluging), Andrew Bynum is Dwight Howard Lite.

As Dex pointed out in the preview, tonight Andrew Bynum finally got a chance to show his new-found mettle against the man who is the gold standard for center comparisons in the league, Mr. Dwight Howard. And, with 11 rebounds and 3 blocks, Drew did not disappoint. Sure, I would have liked him to score more than six points, but Howard is a fearsome defender in his own right, so I can't fault Bynum for simply choosing to neutralize Howard instead of seeking his own offense. All in all, it was a pretty solid effort on the evening ... except it came in the first quarter!! As Drew inhaled rebound after rebound, gobbled up shot after shot, and single handedly kept a frigid Laker team from getting blown out of this game early, it became clear that the term "lite" has no place in describing Andrew Bynum's game. Hell, judging by his ability to use his length and reach to take rebounds away from Howard, and his ability to scare Howard just as much on offense as he is used to scaring people on defense, we might need to start calling Dwight "Andrew Bynum small".

Don't get me wrong, Bynum is not Howard's equal. Even on this night, in which Bynum was once again an absolutely dominant force defensively and on the glass, Howard was hardly outdone. Drew's final line of 10 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks is fantastic, but we shouldn't forget that Dwight Howard chipped in 22 points, 15 boards and two blocks of his own. Howard was the only guy on his team doing much of anything, except for a few Ryan Anderson threes. The rest of the Magic team was nowhere to be found, and only Howard's nine turnovers, the result of as active a defense as I've seen all season from the Lakers, kept Dwight from being game MVP in a losing effort. Howard changed shots, cleaned up on the glass, and did all the things, offensively and defensively, that you need from a franchise cornerstone on a night-to-night basis. But it wasn't enough, because Andrew Bynum willed the Lakers to keep the game close for long enough for the offense to be de-frosted.

The Lakers managed 19 points in the first quarter, a paltry .86 points per possession. Standing alone, .86 PPP is pathetic, but when taken in the context of the Lakerss offensive woes, it was actually some kind of miracle. The Lakers managed to shoot just 27% in the first frame, while the Magic shot 53%, including 4 of 5 from downtown. Under anything close to what you might call normal circumstances, these numbers would have led to the Lakers staring at a huge first quarter deficit. Instead, the Magic lead after 12 minutes was only six. Why? Because every time the Lakers failed to score (which should read: every time the Lakers brought the ball down court), Andrew Bynum was there to collect the ball again, and give the Lakers another chance. The Lakers managed 19 points in the first quarter, and 12(!) of those points came as a result of an offensive rebound. The Lakers pulled down 8 offensive rebounds in the first quarter. Andrew Bynum pulled down six by himself. You do the math.

Once the Lakers began to figure out how exactly one places that round leather sphere through that round metal basket, all that was left was to tighten the screws. And tighten they did. After giving up 1.19 PPP in the first quarter, the Lakers didn't let Orlando crack 1 point per the rest of the evening. Orlando's scoring decreased in every quarter, driven spectacularly by an active Laker defense. The Lakers are a good defensive team, a great one when they set their mind to it. However, that defense is built around solid fundamentals and forcing tough shots from their opponents, driven by a framework designed to funnel the other team into the heart of the Laker defense where the Redwoods we call our front line can make life hell for anybody under seven feet. What the Lakers do not typically do defensively is force turnovers and create steals, but that is exactly the strategy they employed to shut Orlando down in the final three quarters of the contest.

The Lakers forced the Magic into 18 turnovers on the game, or 20% of their plays. Nearly half of those turnovers were steals, most of which were caused by aggressive doubling of Howard on the block. Ron Artest, Derek Fisher and Matt Barnes all took turns forcing Howard into bad situations, and Dwight was slow to pass out of the double team. All those steals led to a veritable feast of fast break points for the normally snail paced Lakers, who managed 20 points in transition as compared to only five for the younger, more transition seeking, Magic. That, my friends, is how you get back in the game when you can't throw one in the ocean, as the euphemism goes, and Matt Barnes deserves to be pointed out because his energy is exactly what the Lakers have often been missing in his absence. Tonight, the team played like a bunch of Matt Barneses, and that energy was the key to victory.

Leading the charge offensively, once they decided to charge at all on that front, were the other two members of the Lakers' top notch front line. Andrew Bynum had a tremendous game overall, but offensively he struggled a bit, shooting only 30% from the floor and scoring just 10 points, but luckily, he's got some pretty solid teammates backing him up. Pau Gasol scored a game high 23 points on 10-17 shooting, and I'm not even mad at him for once again collecting just five rebounds, because Drew has stated rather clearly at this point that "All your rebounds are belong to me". Meanwhile, Lamar Odom came off the bench to provide another 16 points on 12 shots, and another 7 boards. They were joined in the positive column by Derek Fisher, who had an extremely solid night in notching 15 points on nine shots, and throwing in two steals to boot.

Kobe Bryant shocked no one by taking the court despite an injury in Dallas on Saturday night that he thought was career threatening, for a few seconds at least. There was no indication that he was hurt at all, unless you care to read into his shooting 7 for 19 on the evening, and it seems to be pretty miraculous to the entire world that Kobe isn't at least a little bit more slowed by what appeared to be a bad sprain of the ankle. At one point, he was playing defense on quick little Jameer Nelson like it was 2008, and Jameer had Argentina across his jersey instead of Orlando. As for his poor shooting, I personally had no problems with Kobe's game. He took shots that worked well within the confines of the offense for the most part, but he simply couldn't get shots to fall that he normally hits with relative ease. 

But it all comes back to Andrew Bynum. It's been all coming back to him since the All-Star Break, and this is a development that should have the rest of the league muttering to themselves under their breath. Consider this: The Los Angeles Lakers just played a 5 game stretch, in 9 days, with 4 games on the road, against some of the best teams this league has to offer. In those 5 games, Kobe Bryant shot just 39% from the floor. Both Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom shot below 50%. The team as a whole shot just 45%. Five games, against premier competition, and the Laker offense was hardly firing on all cylinders. And the Lakers won four of those games, because of a defense that is shutting foes down left and right, a defense anchored by a 23 year old big who deserves, at the very least, to stop having his game defined in comparison to any other player in the league today. Andrew Bynum is no Dwight Howard, but tonight proves that the statement needs an additional phrase to be complete.

That phrase? Vice Versa.











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