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Big things in store for Lakers
LOS ANGELESThey're pretty accustomed to celebrities sitting courtside in L.A., which only makes sense, seeing as how they more or less invented the concept here.
But in the moments before Game 2 of the Lakers' Western Conference semifinal series against the Utah Jazz, there was one fan down in the expensive seats actually creating a little buzz. Soon-to-be free agent Chris Bosh was sitting on the floor, doing little to discourage rumors that he could be joining the home team in the offseason via a sign-and-trade deal.
"Chris, this will be your next team," one fan shouted at the Raptors power forward. "You know it."
Well, I don't know it.
Because if Tuesday's game was any indication, the Lakers already have all the big men they need to advance to the Western Conference finals. And if that old adage about size mattering is true, L.A. is suddenly playing big enough to defend a title that seemed indefensible at the end of the regular season.
At the very least, bigger was definitely better against the Jazz in Game 2, as the Lakers rode their considerable size advantage inside to a 111-103 win and a 2-0 series lead. And while L.A. benefited from some characteristic play from Kobe Bryant down the stretch, it was the performance of Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom that established the tone for the game and set the stage for Bryant's heroics.
Andrew Bynum powered his way to 17 points and 14 rebounds.
The trio combined for 44 rebounds, helping the Lakers dominate the glass to the tune of 58-40. They also had nine of the Lakers' 13 blocked shots, helping limit Utah to 39.6 percent shooting from the field. And lastly, they were coldly efficient on offense, making 75 percent of their shots (a combined 18-for-24) as L.A. poured in 64 points in the paint — no small contribution given the Lakers' struggles from the perimeter in the postseason.
"They're good," said Utah's Carlos Boozer, probably the Jazz player most tormented by all the Laker bigs clogging the lane. "They're big, they're long, they play good defense. You can't shy away from them. You got to go right at them."
"We got some great play tonight from our big guys," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "All of them played pretty well."
Perhaps none better — and certainly, none more surprisingly — than Bynum.
Bynum's availability for the Utah series was called into question before the opening tip when it was determined that a very small tear of the meniscus in his right knee had worsened during the Lakers' first-round victory over Oklahoma City. And while Bynum said he was fine with playing in pain for the remainder of the postseason, he looked anything but fine in Game 1 as he struggled to even get up and down the court in a timely fashion.
But none of that tentativeness was evident Tuesday night, as Bynum registered a double-double before halftime, pulled down a career playoff high 14 rebounds and — in keeping with Jackson's game plan for his starting center — stayed on the court for almost 30 minutes.
"I was pretty comfortable, especially in the first half," Bynum said. "Very aggressive. I was getting deeper positions so I didn’t have to take so many dribbles. "
"We are happy that Andrew has been playing the way he has been playing right now," Gasol said. "He is just really productive and really aggressive. He is being everything that we need. It is a matter of knowing how to deal with your injuries and understanding what level of pain and discomfort you can suffer. He is definitely playing well and we want him to keep it up."
The Lakers probably wouldn't mind if Odom kept it up, as well.
Jackson has often said that as Odom goes, so goes the team. In fact, the Lakers' sometimes lackadaisical approach to postseason basketball can at least partially be attributed to the laid-back personality of the mercurial yet talented Odom.
But Tuesday, Odom played with the level of intensity the Lakers will need from him if they're going to repeat as NBA champions, particularly on the defensive end. In addition to pulling down 15 rebounds, Odom had three blocked shots — two of them coming in the final 6:22 of the game, after the Jazz had cut the Lakers' 15-point lead to four.
"I'm getting better and better as the playoffs kind of go on," Odom said. "Just trying to do the small things. Block shot here, a put-back here, offensive rebound here, and just try to add up. Try to play an all-around game."
All three of the Lakers' big men are more than capable of filling up a box score -- something their teammates would do well to remember as the postseason progresses.
They seemed to grasp that in the second quarter, when 11 of L.A.'s 12 baskets came from close range and the Lakers built a double-digit lead. They seemed a little unclear on the concept in the fourth quarter, when Ron Artest kept missing three-pointers (he finished 1-for-7 from the perimeter), Jordan Farmar was alternating between hoisting up ill-conceived shots and turning the ball over and Bryant was needed once again to set things straight after another late lead had all but disappeared.
It's hard to believe that the biggest men on the court could somehow go unnoticed, especially when they've got household names like Kyrylo Fesenko and Kosta Koufos trying to defend them.
"We've got smaller guys on us this series," Bynum said. "For the most part if we get our work done early and keep them pinned, we should get the ball."
If they do, good things will happen. Like the Staples Center fans paying more attention to the big men on the court and less attention to the one sitting courtside.
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