Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 5/5/12
DENVER When Andrew Bynum wheeled into the lane and lofted a 5-foot jump hook toward the basket late in the third quarter, Denver center JaVale McGee took a step back and swatted the ball away. It was a call that everyone in the building figured was goaltending, except for the three officials. But the ball went right to Ramon Sessions, who sank a jumper that helped the surging Lakers, who once trailed by 24 points, close to within five points. All's well that ends well? Hardly. Bynum was furious, gesturing and shouting at officials as he jogged back on defense. When the Lakers called timeout a few seconds later, Bynum refused to relent. Soon, he had to be restrained from the officials by Kobe Bryant, Matt Barnes and assistant coach John Kuester, who teamed to push him toward the bench. The play maynot have thwarted momentum, and there was plenty else that went wrong for Los Angeles in its 99-84 loss to the Nuggets, who shaved the Lakers lead in the series lead to 2 to 1. What the episode does is raise questions about whether the Lakers can win a championship with a center piece who is more concerned about his own numbers than the ones on the scoreboard. If Bynum's reaction had come in a vacuum, it would be easy to dismiss, but it came in a game in which he was a no-show in the first half, and is another in a growing list of incidents that are, at their core, questions of character.The Lakers, as has largely been the case with his parking in handicapped spots, cheap shots that have been leveled out of frustration or his acts of willful disobedience, have chosen to write Bynum's misdeeds off as youthful indiscretion. They did the same Friday night. "What are you writing, a temper tantrum Andrew Bynum thing?" Bryant said when pressed about Bynum's reaction to the goaltending call. "Look, everybody has moments where they blow up. He didn't cost us. He didn't get a technical foul." No, he didn't. And he wasn't missing 19 of 25 3-pointers, wasn't the only wheezing to get back on defense, or shrinking like the entire Lakers' bench, which made three baskets.He wasn't Bryant, who shot 7 of 23 from the field and committed six turnovers. But what Bynum did was take the first half off scoring as many points as Metta World Peace, who was suspended and watching the game from somewhere outside the arena while the Nuggets charged out to a 41-17 lead. At halftime, when the Nuggets owned a 16-point lead, the frenetic rookie 6-7 forward Kenneth Faried had 10 rebounds twice as many as the 7-foot Bynum. Bynum began the second half carrying a sense of determination and atonement, and he finished with 18 points and 12 rebounds. But when the game began to slip away from the Lakers, Bynum's effort once again began to flag and his body language faded. The Lakers were still within seven when Pau Gasol left Faried at the free-throw line to double team Andre Miller, who was posting up Steve Blake. But Bynum failed to rotate over and Miller fed Faried, who came roaring down the lane for a two-handed dunk that left Gasol glaring at Bynum. The Lakers never got that close again. The Nuggets sent double teams at Bynum, forcing turnovers. Bynum stood flatfooted in the post, allowing Faried to run around him and steal an entry pass. Then when Bryant and Sessions missed 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions, Faried and McGee boxed out Bynum, who made no effort to move around them or move them out. Instead, he tossed his hands up in the air, either exasperated with his teammates' shot selection or his inability to get the rebound. It was much the same way when the Lakers were routed by San Antonio near the end of the regular season. Tim Duncan took Bynum out of his comfort zone, and soon he was out of the game, his shoulders slumping and his effort sagging. "We know what the impact he can have on the game when he plays a consistent game throughout," Gasol said. "The second half, he had 18 points and seven rebounds in the second half alone, so obviously his level of intensity and activity is a big factor for us. We all have to be active, it's not just Drew. And we all have to be aggressive from the get-go." Bynum had been a tour de force in the first two games of the series he had 10 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks in the opener and scored 27 in Game 2. What if he played with the same energy as Faried, what would he be like? "Ooooh, you know what," said Denver center Timofey Mozgov. "Like 35 points, 30 rebounds. It wouldn't be fair. You can be one or two things run, jump, crazy energy like Kenneth, but not five things." Bynum acknowledged his effort was poor in the first half and said he was also affected by the altitude. "I wasn't ready to play, that's really it," Bynum said of his first half. "I just got aggressive. I got angry in the second half and played a little better." He called the no call on McGee's block "almost ridiculous," and was well within his right to be upset even if Sessions scored.When asked if he could emulate the effort that Faried plays with, Bynum said: "Not really. Not everybody can do that. That's his niche." Much has been made lately of comparisons between Bynum and a youthful Bryant, both of them headstrong and indolent. But nobody ever heard Bryant suggest that qualities like hustle and a will are niches. Bynum seems less like Bryant than, say, Randy Moss, someone who will play when he wants to play. When Bryant was asked why he was going easy on Bynum, he preferred to focus on the here and now, not what might lay ahead when the challenges are more formidable. "I don't really understand what the big deal is?" Bryant said. "He had a really big second half. That's not what cost us the ballgame." True, but it may be what costs them something more.
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