LOS ANGELES Andrew Bynum may eventually end up being one of the greatest centers in NBA history. However, there's very little chance the 24-year old All Star will ever wind up as a Jeopardy! champion.
The Lakers went into Tuesday night's playoff game holding a 3-1 series lead over Denver. A win on the STAPLES Center floor would mean a trip to Oklahoma City and round two. Bynum, apparently feeling he has surpassed the wisdom level of coaching greats such as Pat Riley, Phil Jackson and Red Auerbach, proclaimed heading into Game Five that "Close-out games are actually kind of easy." Bynum went on to say "teams tend to fold if you come out and play hard in the beginning, so we want to come out and establish an early lead and protect it."
Playing tough defense and controlling the middle, the Nuggets came away with a 102-99 win over L.A., turning Bynum's prediction into folly. And the big man did nothing to help his own cause, being outplayed and outworked by JaVale McGee, who finished with 21 points, 14 rebounds and a pair of blocked shots. Bynum scored 16 points and took down just 11 boards. And he blocked nine fewer shots than he did in Game One, ending up with just one in 39 minutes.
Nuggets' coach George Karl, one of the game's true practitioners of preparing his teams to use any mental advantage it can, took Bynum's silly sentences and edited them into the end of a pre-game film to help motivate his underdog squad. The celluloid bulletin board material worked, and Denver is still alive, hoping to become just the ninth team in history to erase a three-games-to-one deficit.
"(Bynum's remarks) just gave me another opportunity to philosophize, (something) I think you know I like to do," said Karl with a laugh.
"In general, I think he's wrong. I've been blessed to win a few series, and it's hard to win the next game. And the hardest thing in the world to do is win the fourth game. I don't care who you're playing, it's hard to win that fourth game."
Laker coach Mike Brown has had to put up with the childish nonsense perpetrated by Bynum and Metta World Peace all season long, and has pretty much stuck behind his players. Tuesday night he seemed a little different, from the strained look on his face when asked about Bynum, to the responses he gave in the interview room.
"(Karl) is rightit is bulletin board material," Brown said tersely, "and if a guy wants to say that, in my opinion he's got to back it up. JaVale McGee had 21 and 14 and impacted the game. Give Denver credit for winning the game."
Bynum played off the remarks, preferring to talk about his sub-par performance instead of his ridiculous remarks.
"(McGee) attacked off the glass. That is what was causing me problems," he said. "I just have to get down the court earlier, get there first."
Actually, Bynum needs to grow up and respect the game and the players in it.
He can play the game like few others when motivated, but if not in the proper frame of mind, he can be a distraction and cost his team wins.
It's been going on since last season's playoff sweep by Dallas, when he hammered tiny J.J.Berrea onto the court and received a five-game suspension (later reduced to four because of the labor problems). Against Golden State in a game earlier this season, Bynum was benched after launching three-point shots that didn't fit into the flow of the game. Afterwards, he said that he was going to keep shooting three no matter how the coaches felt. And following a horrid performance against the New York Knicks in which he scored a measly three points on 1-8 shooting in 35 minutes, he admitted that he'd been "loafing around" during the contest. Then came the close-out game comments.
Kobe Bryant, who scored 43 points, has had Bynum's back throughout all the controversies, saying that it was just a maturing process the Laker center was going through. After Game Five, it sound as if Bryant might be a little tired of defending his teammate, especially when Kobe is singularly focused on winning his sixth NBA Championship.
"Did (Bynum's remarks) pump them up?" Bryant asked. "Probably. You never want to give anybody bulletin board material.
"We used to have a coach (Phil Jackson) who said the basketball gods' would not allow us to win this game because (we) didn't deserve it."
Pau Gasol, who was relatively ineffective with just 9 points and ten rebounds in 37 minutes, said Bynum misread the situation.
Said Gasol: "It doesn't matter where you are in the series, you still have to come out and play at your bestyou still have to be hungry enough to go out there and play your game, and do whatever it takes to win.
"You just can't go out there expecting to win just because we're ahead. Now we have to regroup and win in Denver."
Assuming Bynum won't provide him with anymore motivational material, Karl had a word of warning for his team.
"The big thing for us is that we can't be too happy," he said forcefully. "(Tonight) we'll be happy, but tomorrow we've got to go to work." And perhaps taking a final shot at Bulletin Board Bynum, Karl said that "the professionalism of a series is be serious.' Don't be too happywhen you win.
Paying attention Andrew?
NOTES The Lakers almost made a miraculous comeback in the fourth quarter after trailing since the 7:12 mark of the second period. Bryant hit four three pointers in the last 4:45, and a Ramon Session trey with 14 seconds left cut the Nuggets' lead to one. But Andre Miller hit two free throws with 12.8 seconds left to provide the final margin of victory for Denver. Miller led the Nuggets with 24 points and 8 assists in 28 minutes of play. Game Six is Thursday night at the Pepsi Center.