There may be some truth to the whispers about the ability of Los Angeles Laker center Andrew Bynum to coexist in the starting lineup with forward Pau Gasol, and evidence of that was on display in a win against the Houston Rockets on Tuesday night.
For the second consecutive game Bynum delivered a virtuoso performance by scoring 24 points, with 11 of them coming in the fourth quarter as the Lakers managed to hold the lead and persevere for the win as Gasol looked on.
Bynum followed his 8-8 shooting performance on Sunday versus the Dallas Mavericks with a 10-16 display versus the Rockets, and added eight rebounds, as the Lakers avenged an earlier home loss to Houston.
Lamar Odom fell one assist shy of a triple-double with 17 points, 19 rebounds, and nine assists while Kobe Bryant scored a quiet 22 points after being hit on his injured finger early in the game.
Ron Artest scored seven points in his first action since Christmas and had a steady, if unspectacular, performance since suffering a recent concussion and elbow contusion.
The story on this night, though, was Bynum who had receded into the shadows since Gasol made his triumphant return to the Laker lineup after being sidelined by a hamstring strain on his right leg.
In the beginning of the season Bynum seemed to have made great strides, and his game showed a maturity and level of effort that had been missing previously in his career.
He started asserting himself in the paint for the Lakers, and his combination of agile footwork and soft hands made him an ideal component in the Los Angeles version of the triangle offense.
This was reflected in his numbers as he began the season averaging more than 20 points per game to go along with 11 rebounds. He had finally begun to live up to the promise of his potential, and the huge contract he signed earlier.
Then Gasol came back, seemed to be in midseason form, and the attention shifted to his consistent performances, while Bynum appeared to regress before our very eyes.
He maintained his starting position, but seemed loss when he was forced to share time in the paint with Gasol. He looked slow and cumbersome and was confused when it came to shifting defensively in the post.
The prior aggression had been lost in his transformation, and Bynum was reduced to a meek shell of his former self, struggling with the simple aspects of the game, and became lost in the precision of the Laker offense.
This was mostly lost to hindsight because the Lakers managed to continue winning the majority of their games, and the general perception was the Lakers held a decided advantage over competitors with the presence of two skilled seven-footers.
The fallacy in that assumption was exposed during a recent span of games, which saw the Lakers continuously challenged at the rim, and that was highlighted by a failure in communication by Gasol and Bynum.
Instead of sharing common space, the matching was more like a disparate pairing with neither player seeming to understand when to guard the rim or when to rotate to a different player.
By all accounts the Laker scheme has operated more efficiently when Odom has been in the game because of his ability to shift between the post and perimeter and to guard players whose games extend beyond the paint.
I'm not suggesting that Los Angeles insert Odom into the starting lineup, because his true value lies in a reserve role, but the numbers do not lie.
With Odom in the game the lane opens up instead of being clogged by Bynum and Gasol, who do the majority of their work around the rim and are much more comfortable from 15 feet in.
It's still a pretty good problem to have, as no other team in the league can boast a threesome as long, talented, and versatile as the combination of Odom, Gasol, and Bynum.
The timetable for Gasol's return is uncertain due to the nature of his injury, and during that time, you can expect to see Bynum continue to flourish with the added space in the paint.
It's a good thing the Lakers have the luxury of having two players capable of impacting the game in a similar manner, plus there are lessons to be learned even in the face of injury.
Coach Phil Jackson should use this time as a way to decipher how both Gasol and Bynum are best at leaving their footprints on a game due to their presence or through the merits of their absence in the Laker lineup.