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When Bynum goes down, everyone feels the pain

As soon as Andrew Bynum went down in a heap and didn’t spring up, as soon as a grimace spread across the Lakers center’s face and he reflexively clutched his left knee, what should have been an easy night against the Memphis Grizzlies became anything but routine.

The fans knew it right away.

They stood in front of their seats, the pricey courtside vantage points and the distant ones, craning to get a look at him.

All the while they hoped their eyes were deceiving them and that the 20-year-old’s injury was not too bad, that his promising season -- and the Lakers’ playoff hopes -- had not ended on a January night against Memphis.

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The cavernous Staples Center, which can become so quiet, was filled with an audible murmur of concern and anxiety Sunday as the clock froze with 8 minutes 52 seconds left in the third quarter.

The fans were alarmed, and with good reason.

Bynum had sprained his left knee, a team spokesman said later. Although X-rays were negative, Bynum will undergo an MRI exam today and won’t accompany the Lakers to their game at Seattle.

He was helped off the court, his face drawn and his ankle suspended in the air. Although he was able to smile later and say he was more frightened than hurt, he is not home-free.

His youth works in his favor, as does the fact that he had not hurt that knee before. He discarded his crutches as he left the arena, but the MRI exam should tell whether there’s damage lurking beneath his swollen knee.

The concern, he said, is “just the kneecap and the ligaments around the kneecap.”

He’s hoping for the best.

“It was pretty scary because it felt like my knee twisted all around. Luckily I’m all right,” he said, his knee encased in a heavy brace.

“I didn’t hear any pops. I’m able to put weight on it and it doesn’t really hurt. Just when I bend it, it hurts.”

When he aches, the Lakers -- who lost their lead in the fourth quarter and barely held on for a 100-99 victory -- feel the pain.

Bynum and Lamar Odom were jostling for a defensive rebound when Bynum came back to earth and planted his foot atop Odom’s foot. Both sprawled awkwardly on the hardwood.

Odom gathered himself after a few seconds.

Bynum did not.

“I have no idea what happened,” Odom said. “Hopefully he’ll be all right. He was probably a little scared.

“He’s playing great. He just really wants to be out there. We can’t wait to get him back.”

Bynum tried to put weight on his leg, but the discomfort led him to limp badly. He leaned on two teammates and kept his leg suspended a few inches in the air as he walked off the court. Fans chanted his name in tribute as he exited.

General Manger Mitch Kupchak, sitting upstairs, quickly made his way to the locker room to check on his prize center. Ronny Turiaf went with Bynum to the locker room.

“I was scared. Drewski is like my big little brother,” Turiaf said. “We came in together, so I really care about him. I saw him grab his knee and I was real worried.”

Bynum’s tumble wasn’t as horrifying as the calamitous fall in February in which Clippers guard Shaun Livingston tore three ligaments in his left knee, but it was bad enough for the Lakers.

It happened when they were leading, 66-55, and Bynum was one rebound short of his 19th double-double this season.

When he had lifted the offensive end of his game so much that Coach Phil Jackson could not possibly consider taking him out of the starting lineup.

When Bynum was showing how much he wanted to take charge of his career and do what it took to stay fit, determined not to sink into the kind of late fade he experienced last year.

When the Lakers were showing signs they might do more than merely challenge in the West and could actually win the conference.

Without Bynum, they fell behind in the fourth quarter and sweated out a one-point victory that moved them within half a game of the division-leading Suns and kept them even with Phoenix in that All Important Loss Column.

Turiaf, celebrating his 25th birthday, brightened when told Bynum believes the injury might be mild.

“I hope he’s right because we definitely need Big Drew on the court,” Turiaf said.

“He brings so much on defense and offense. His presence out there. People are noticing and are scared a little bit of him. We need him back.”

What happens if Bynum doesn’t come back as quickly as he hopes and is out for more than a few games? Turiaf wasn’t ready to consider that yet. Asked whether he would pick up the slack for the absent Bynum, he shook his head.

“That’s secondary,” he said. “Right now all the worry should be about Andrew and seeing what’s really wrong with him.”

The Lakers should be worried too, and for more than losing his 13.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game.

The kid disparaged last spring by Kobe Bryant, the kid they offered in a proposed trade for Kevin Garnett, has grown up and become a vital part of whatever they might accomplish this season. For them to move forward, they must hope his injury is as slight as he hopes it is.

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Helene Elliott can be reached at helene.elliott@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Elliott, go to latimes.com/elliott.


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