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L.A. Lakers: Do The Lakers Miss Andrew Bynum? Ask Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer INovember 13, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 17:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts in the second half with teammate Andrew Bynum #17 while taking on the Boston Celtics in Game Seven of the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 17, 2010 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.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Through the first eight games of the 2010-11 season, the performance of the Los Angeles Lakers big men made it easy for fans to forget that their core of post players was incomplete, but after watching Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom get pushed around by Denver, I can't wait until Andrew Bynum gets back.

I'm not sure how many people feel the same way, but judging by Pau Gasol's body language on Thursday night, the thought may have crossed his mind.

To look at Gasol's numbers without the privilege of viewing the game makes it's easy to assume he had another monster outing, because 17 points and 20 rebounds are certainly great numbers for any player.

But Gasol's performance told a story that numbers can't explain.

The Nuggets' front line, decimated by injuries to Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen, managed to completely take Gasol out of his offensive game in the second half, and they employed a strategy that is all too familiar to Lakers' fans.

Denver took a page from the Boston Celtics of 2008 by physically imposing their will on Odom, and especially Gasol, and the strategy worked. And it's not even like it was Kevin Garnett or Kendrick Perkins doing the pushing.

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NeNe, who is about three inches shorter than Gasol, and Al Harrington, who is closer to five inches shorter, constantly pushed Gasol away from the rim, and made every shot he took difficult.

The Nuggets were in Gasol's head so bad that he even had trouble scoring in great scoring position, as illustrated by the fourth-quarter play in the Denver game, where Gasol had the ball ripped from his extended arms right at the rim.

I haven't said much about Odom because there is really little to say except he went 1-6 from the floor with three points, and he was so out of rhythm that coach Phil Jackson benched him in the fourth quarter in favor of Shannon Brown.

I had recently joined the chorus of people who felt that Jackson should bring Bynum off the bench and let Odom continue to start alongside Gasol because the chemistry between the players was so good.

I guess that's the reason Jackson coaches the Lakers and I just write about them.

Odom and Gasol have looked so good this season because they haven't been pushed out of their comfort zone, at least until the Denver game.

The Lakers have been able to play their fluid, precision style with few interruptions, but the Nuggets found a way to disrupt their rhythm and it wasn't even really hard to do.

Other teams will take notice of the way Gasol and Odom were man-handled in the post, but when Bynum returns he has the potential to nullify what may be the Lakers' biggest weakness.

There are disadvantages in playing Gasol and Bynum together because the Lakers offense sometimes stagnates and the middle can get crowded, but the one advantage the pairing does provide outweighs anything else.

When Bynum gets pushed around in the post he usually pushes back.

Bynum's physical presence was sorely needed against the Nuggets, and his absence illustrated how important it is for Bynum to establish that presence as a starter.

As Jackson knows, and I now realize, Bynum prevents teams from physically ganging up on Gasol, and he has a strong enough offensive post game to serve as a viable option when Gasol is bottled up.

But more importantly Bynum pushes back, which makes my theory to explore trading him look silly in hindsight.

The Lakers may have the most talented roster in the NBA, and Gasol and Odom may be the most skilled tandem of big men in the league, but Bynum's physical play completes the trio, and the Lakers will not three-peat without it.

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