Andrew Bynum Makes the Los Angeles Lakers Western Conference Favorites

Andre Khatchaturian@AndreKhatchCorrespondent IIIDecember 31, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 19:  Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers grabs a rebound during the game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on December 19, 2011 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2011 NBAE  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Andrew Bynum's return not only makes the Lakers Western Conference contenders, but his performance showed that the Lakers definitely don't need Howard to win a title. They have a mini-Howard of their own. 

You didn't have to see the whole game to see the impact Bynum made for the Los Angeles Lakers in their New Year's Eve victory over the Denver Nuggets

All you had to see was a sequence toward the end of the game where Bynum made a huge defensive play with a block, then ran down the court to the other side and slammed the ball through the hoop to put the Lakers in position to win.

He not only brings a presence offensively, but also defensively.

Bynum was 13-for-18 tonight and had his second-highest point total with 29 points. He added 13 rebounds and two blocks. His six offensive rebounds gave the Lakers plenty of second-chance points opportunities. 

These are Dwight Howard-like numbers. Can Bynum sustain these type of numbers for the whole season?

Why not?

He's healthy now. He definitely has the ability to be a double-digit rebound guy. He showed it today and he showed it in both preseason games against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Scoring-wise, it seems like the Lakers are pounding the rock to Bynum to a greater extent and they should. They have the strength down low with Pau Gasol and Bynum. They have a huge size advantage over most teams because of this duo. The Lakers need to exploit this advantage over other teams.

Speaking of Gasol, Bynum's presence allows Pau to play his own finesse game. This isn't to say that Gasol can't be physical, but he's always been more comfortable being a finesse big with an outside game. With Bynum doing the dirty work down low, it gives Gasol the freedom to provide a dual-threat with his outside game.

Finally, give kudos to Mike Brown, who understands the cards he has been dealt and he's utilizing Bynum effectively. The Lakers were up against a high-octane offensive team in the Denver Nuggets this afternoon and they held them to 89 points and a lot of credit needs to go to Brown's defensive mentality.

The Nuggets led the league in scoring coming into the game, averaging 111.3 points per game. Last season, they led the league with 107.5 points per game. The Lakers' effort defensively against the Nuggets and even the New York Knicks, who are also an offensive powerhouse, has been their greatest asset. Bynum completes the defense and automatically makes the Lakers a Western Conference contender.

Bynum's presence masks flaws and allows the Lakers to win with their defense and physicality. 

The bench fell asleep today and the team struggled from behind the arc. Metta World Peace was 0-for-8 from the field and the bench as a whole was 7-for-26. The Lakers were also atrocious behind the arc, only making two of their 22 three-pointers, but because of Bynum and the defense, the Lakers were still able to come away with a victory.

That being said, it's always great when a team is able to win despite a poor performance. 

For now, Bynumite's explosive play along with the stifling defense the Lakers have presented throughout the first five games have made Laker fans forget about Howard. A strong defense will always keep a team in the game and give them a chance to win.