In mid-January, Andrew Bynum - the Laker's only true big man - went down with an injury that was scheduled to keep him off the hardwood for eight weeks. Well, eight weeks have come and went, and still no Bynum. A couple of days ago, Phil Jackson was quoted as saying that Bynum wouldn't be back until the playoffs. Now there's word that he'll be worked back into the rotation the last week or two of the regular season. Whatever the case may be, it's going to be hard to get Bynum back into playing shape and back into the flow of LA's offense. Unfortunately, I think that a healthy and productive Bynum is a necessity in order to win 4 out of 7 against teams with traditional and offensively-talented big men, such as Utah and San Antonio.
Pau Gasol, towering at seven feet, is certainly a big, but he plays like a shooting forward, preferring to take jump shots or slash down the lane for backdoor layups. Gasol plays too far out and is too soft to collect any rebound that doesn't happen to fall right in his hands, and his size and strength are a liability against a true big with post up moves. Without Bynum, I see the Lakers akin to the Phoenix Suns in years past - a quick, rapid fire team with a lot of offensive threats. A team that can burn you in a fast-paced, full court game. But put them in a slowed down, half court set against a team that pounds the ball inside, yet still has reliable outside shooters and all bets are off.
Of course all bets are off in the Western Conference playoffs this year, with so many hot teams. Coaching and player experience are important in every postseason, but I think that these attributes will be doubly important this year with the high level of talent. While teams like the Hornets and Rockets have strong records and great players, I wouldn't be surprised to see both fall by the wayside in the first round in the face of older, better coached competition from teams like the Lakers, Spurs, Jazz, and Suns.
As I write this, four games separate the best team in the West (the Lakers and Hornets with 46-21 records) and the eighth seed Golden State Warriors with a 42-25 record. Amazing. There are seven teams in the West with either 44, 45, or 46 wins. This year's playoffs are going to be amazing. Maybe Mark Cuban was right - maybe this is the best NBA season ever.