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Lakers’ Andrew Bynum shows he’s not ready for the show

The most important celebrity at Staples Center on Monday night was not unshaven, and his baseball cap was not pulled low.

The most important celebrity at Staples Center did not have torn jeans or a pouty smile or affected swagger.

But, hey, he didn’t stroll in until the second quarter.

And, at times, it did seem as if he wasn’t really watching the game.

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And, no, we’re not sure when he’s coming back.

On a night when Will Ferrell or Leonardo DiCaprio filled the room, the most important celebrity was Andrew Bynum, but there is no humor here, and the drama is real.

On a night the Lakers paved over their first-round series against the Utah Jazz with a 107-96 victory and a four-games-to-one clinching, there remained an unsettled rumbling.

What next?

Bynum or sell?

Waiting for them in the second round are probably Yao Ming and the Houston Rockets. Waiting for them is probably an inside threat that the Jazz could only fake.

Waiting for them is the first big postseason mission for Bynum.

Who continues to keep the Lakers waiting.

Has he recovered enough from this season’s knee injury to make an impact here? Are his legs strong enough? Is his focus sharp enough?

After watching him hack and stumble through the first round, including a dozen unsteady minutes Monday, the answer would be no.

After watching him leave one Lakers practice early this postseason with knee issues, then leave Monday’s game with defensive issues, the answer would be heck no.

But after listening to the Lakers claim the knee is fine and he just needs to find his feet while avoiding the officials’ stares, well, OK, maybe?

The only thing beyond debate is that the four strong games Bynum played at the end of the regular season -- after missing the previous 32 -- were not a fair sample size.

Those games lacked playoff intensity. Those games lacked playoff officiating.

These games are different, they are real, and Bynum has not been real good, even playing a big role in the Lakers’ nearly blowing Monday’s game in the fourth quarter.

With the 7-foot Bynum on the court guarding 6-foot-8 Paul Millsap, the Jazz forward scored nine consecutive points before Bynum was taken out. The Lakers starters returned to watch a 22-point lead get whittled to six before pulling the team upright for the victory.

Which ended with Bynum sitting on the bench.

Yep, it was a far distance from the starting lineup in which he began these playoffs. Back then, the Lakers hoped he might be one of the differences that would make this postseason a happy one.

But game by game, it became apparent that something was wrong. Either he couldn’t stay out of foul trouble, or he couldn’t stay in the moment, and finally Coach Phil Jackson just couldn’t trust him.

He had 15 rebounds the entire series. He made nine baskets the entire series. He averaged one foul about every five minutes.

A couple of days ago, the perfectionist Kobe Bryant assured me Bynum was fine.

“There is nothing wrong with Andrew, he just needs to get his rhythm,” he said. “And the officials haven’t seen him for a while, they need to figure out how he plays again.”

But if it’s anything like this series, it’s not too pretty. And if the Lakers play Houston, he won’t be too effective.

I’m surprised Jackson didn’t try to give Bynum more needed minutes in a couple of the blowout Lakers wins. But then again, after what happened Monday, maybe I’m not.

He entered the game at the start of the second quarter, and was tied up by Ronnie Brewer, a guy whom Bynum outweighs by 50 pounds. At least Bynum won the jump ball.

For the next six minutes, he seemed equally bewildered and off-balance while trying to guard Millsap.

In nearly six minutes, before being pulled, he grabbed one rebound and blocked one shot.

He then disappeared until the start of the fourth quarter, when he stepped back on to the court and almost immediately fouled Millsap. A few minutes later, he fouled Millsap again, and it’s probably no coincidence that on the ensuing trip down the court, Bynum backed off Millsap and watched him score.

Seconds later, Millsap broke free on a fastbreak and scored again, and the Jazz comeback was on.

If the Lakers had blown this game, the onus would have been on Bynum. With only practices on the schedule in the coming week, is there any way that he can get into strong enough playoff playing shape to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

The Lakers reached the NBA Finals last year without him. Against a clearly depleted Western Conference, there seems little doubt they don’t need him to get that far again.

But the kind of Lakers team that shows up in the NBA Finals depends on the kind of toughness and presence Bynum can give them before then.

Unfortunately for them, after one series, the most important celebrity in the Staples Center on Monday night can only be described with one infamous celebrity announcement.

Andrew Bynum has left the building.

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bill.plaschke@latimes.com


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