LOOKING FOR THE REBOUND
The low-key Lakers practice was already over on Wednesday, but the three-on-three sessions had not been enough to satisfy Andrew Bynum after his substandard play in the team’s first-round playoff series against Utah.
So Bynum put in extra work after his teammates left, shooting off to the side with Lakers assistant coach Kurt Rambis, the two talking about Bynum’s correct form.
Then, Bynum spoke about his poor play against the Jazz and about preparing to return to the starting lineup when the Lakers play either the Houston Rockets or Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals at Staples Center. The Rockets lead Portland, 3-2, with Game 6 tonight in Houston.
When Bynum was done with his interviews, he was summoned to the office of Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak, who stood upstairs at the team’s training facility with Bill Sharman, the team’s Hall of Fame special consultant.
Bynum has been analyzed, scrutinized and dissected because of his ineffective play against Utah. He averaged five points and three rebounds and shot 39.1%, while picking up 16 fouls in 77 minutes in the five-game series.
After Wednesday’s practice -- Kobe Bryant, Lamar Odom and Trevor Ariza were sent home early and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson didn’t attend because of personal matters -- Bynum was offered some words of encouragement.
“Andrew, he wants to excel,” said Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, a Lakers special assistant who is Bynum’s mentor. “So he’s looking to dominate the game and sometimes you have to be patient. . . . He’s figuring it out. I’m sure by the end of the playoffs, people won’t be talking about these issues.”
Bynum averaged 17.3 points and 5.5 rebounds in his last four regular-season games after missing 32 because of a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
So much was expected from him, but the 21-year-old center was unable to deliver against Utah.
Bynum admitted he wasn’t quite focused enough, especially when his play suffered and even more so when he lost his spot in the starting lineup to Odom.
“Even when you’re not playing, you’ve got to be focused on the bench,” Bynum said. “You never know when you might be called on. In any situation, you have to be ready for it.”
A chance for redemption is not far away.
Jackson will start Bynum in the next series because of Houston’s 7-foot-6 center Yao Ming, or because of Portland’s 7-foot centers, Joel Przybilla and Greg Oden.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” Bynum said. “I think that I’ll play more just because of Yao Ming.”
Bynum wants to score more, but the Lakers may need him to be more of a defensive presence, to rebound, set screens and score when he has opportunities.
“I told him not to worry about the stats,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “Just having the opportunity to be on the court and not have to sit down with foul trouble. He’ll be out there and he’ll figure it out. He’s very good at making adjustments to how he’s being played.”
Before the Jazz series, Bynum had played in only six playoffs games in four seasons.
He missed the postseason last year because of a left knee injury.
“He hasn’t ever played at this level, in this type of intensity,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “The playoffs are another level of basketball, and it’s new to him. I hope he’s learning.”
Bryant reclaimed his spot atop the most popular jersey list, according to figures released by the NBA for the 2008-09 season.
Cleveland forward LeBron James was second, followed by New Orleans guard Chris Paul and Boston forward Kevin Garnett.
Lakers forward-center Pau Gasol was ninth on the list, which is based on sales at the NBA store in New York City and nbastore.com.
The popularity of Bryant’s No. 24 jersey also helped the Lakers take over the top spot for team merchandise sales after the Celtics held it last season. Boston was second this season.
Times staff writer Mike Bresnahan contributed to this report.
All things Lakers, all the time.
Get all the Lakers news you need in Dan Woike's weekly newsletter.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.