If the first three preseason games are any indication, a major part of the Lakers’ first quarter offensive game plan is pretty simple: Let Andrew Bynum go to work in the paint.
On Thursday evening in Las Vegas against the Sacramento Kings, Bynum was dominant in a 16-point, four-rebound first quarter in what was ultimately a 98-92 Lakers victory, controlling the paint much like he did against Golden State in L.A.’s first two contests.
“I think that’s something that you’re going to see all year,” said Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak from his courtside seat. “It’s always a focus to initially attack teams down low, and Andrew has that ability.”
“You have to be aggressive to start the game, because sometimes people come out relaxed,” added Bynum. “We know we can move the ball to the backside and (get those inside shots).”
The numbers suggest as much, as the first game against the Warriors saw the 21-year-old hit 4-of-5 shots and all five free throws for 13 points, plus three offensive boards (four total). The second contest, just two days later also against the Warriors, saw a less-inspired team effort produce 24 first quarter points. Ten of those points were scored by Kobe Bryant as Bynum chipped in four points and two boards on 2-of-4 shooting. Nonetheless, L.A. still looked for Bynum’s initial post ups, and he didn’t force anything. On Wednesday, No. 17 again hit all of his free throws (6-of-6 off fouls committed at the rim) and made 5-of-8 shots including two powerful dunks off alley-oops from Bryant and Derek Fisher, respectively.
“He’s completing at the basket,” said Phil Jackson. “I think he’s stronger. At times his defense has been really good (although) there are always areas to work on.”
Bynum has scored 33 points with 10 rebounds in three first quarters, though in fairness, the Warriors and Kings don’t exactly offer the league’s most threatening defensive frontcourts. Furthermore, Pau Gasol (hamstring, day-to-day) didn’t play on Thursday, affording Bynum at least a few more touches than he may get consistently. Nevertheless, Bynum will indeed get the ball often in the early goings, and L.A. will have trouble thinking of a reason not to feed him the ball when he’s this productive, particularly when he’s establishing such good post position.
“I need to focus all year long on being the first one up the floor on both (offense and defense),” said Bynum. “Because if I stay ahead of the ball and stay healthy I think the sky is the limit.”
As it turned out in Vegas, the Lakers looked for Bynum far less often as the game continued, producing just five additional field goal attempts in 20 more minutes (32 total as he played the entire first quarter), yet he still finished with a game high 24 points and eight boards plus a block. But the lack of late touches didn’t seem to bother him; on the contrary, Bynum understands that it’s his defense and rebounding that will increase in importance as games draw on.
“That’s when people are really going to come out and attack, especially if you have a big lead at halftime,” he concluded. “You have to shift your focus to defense.”
So, with a recipe made up of one part early offense and another late defense, Bynum is already looking much more like the January 2009 version of himself than what he was able to show in the playoffs due to his knee injury.
For the Lakers, that’s pretty good news.
1 Injured shin for Lamar Odom, who was kicked as Ron Artest and Kings rookie Jon Brockman wrestled underneath the hoop. Odom missed the second half – though he tried to return but couldn’t run – and is listed as day-to-day. After the game, he said he was “sore,” but “fine.”
2 Three pointers made by the Lakers, one each from Sasha Vujacic and Ron Artest, to go with nine misses. Artest finished with seven points, seven rebounds and two assists in 26 minutes.
4 Steals from Kobe Bryant, two of which ignited explosive fastbreak dunks for the Finals MVP, the first of which featured No. 24 double-pumping the ball off his left shoulder. Bryant finished with 18 points, four assists, four rebounds and four steals as he entertained a highly-partisan Lakers crowd.
12 Game-high plus/minus rating for Bryant and Odom, no surprise the team’s best in that category throughout the 2008-09 season.
18 Margin for the Lakers after three quarters (85-67), until the Kings regulars cut the lead to as few as three with 1:45 minutes remaining in the fourth against L.A.’s bench.
26 Made free throws by the Lakers on 30 attempts for a solid 86.7 percent.
80 Percent shooting for Vujacic, who nailed 4-of-5 shots (the only miss was a full-court heave at the third quarter buzzer) as he continues to shoot the ball well early in the preseason.