The Lakers defeated the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday, an event that was quickly forgotten amid the specter of another Andrew Bynum knee injury.
Bynum sustained a sprained right knee after Kobe Bryant crashed into him at the end of an off-balance drive in the first quarter of the Lakers’ 115-98 victory at the FedEx Forum.
Bynum yelled out immediately after the collision, stayed down for about two minutes and pounded the court with his fist as trainer Gary Vitti crouched next to him.
It was not the same knee that prematurely ended Bynum’s 2007-08 season, and Bynum said the feeling wasn’t as bad this time.
“I didn’t hear any pops,” he said as he leaned on a long black crutch in front of his locker. “It’s much better than last year. Last year, I wasn’t able to put any pressure on it or walk or anything like that. I really don’t need the crutch, but they just want me on it just to keep the weight off of it.”
X-rays did not show any broken bones, and Bynum will undergo an MRI exam today in New York, where knee specialist David Altchek, who performed surgery on Bynum’s left knee last May, is based.
The Lakers play the Knicks on Monday at Madison Square Garden.
Bynum was hopeful, as were some Lakers officials, that this injury was not as serious as last season’s briefly dislocated left kneecap that cost him 67 games.
Sprained knees generally take up to six weeks to heal, a time period that, if accurate, would keep Bynum sidelined until around March 15, a span of 19 or 20 games.
Initially, Bynum could not put any weight on the knee as he was taken off the court by Vladimir Radmanovic and Trevor Ariza with 6:55 left in the first quarter. The Lakers were ahead at the time, 13-11, and Bynum had seven points.
Bynum felt better a couple of hours later and was able to put some weight on the knee after icing it twice and putting a compression brace on it.
Teammate Pau Gasol expressed guarded optimism because “Doctors ended up saying that it’s probably not too serious, so we’re looking forward to know exactly what’s going on [today] with the MRI.”
Lakers officials said they would not speculate on a timetable for Bynum’s return until after the MRI exam.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson seemed more somber than Bynum and Gasol, calling the injury a “great disappointment.”
Bynum was on a roll coming into Saturday, averaging 26.2 points, 14 rebounds and 3.2 blocked shots over his last five games.
“We hope that Andrew’s going to be able to return this season, obviously,” Jackson said. “We know we’re going to have to go on without him for a while, at least.”
Last season, Bynum injured his left knee in mid-January, also against Memphis, after coming down on Lamar Odom’s foot while reaching back for a rebound, and was expected to be out at least eight weeks. A few months later, Altchek performed a 30-minute procedure that consisted of removing cartilage debris and smoothing rough spots on the underside of Bynum’s left kneecap.
As bad as Bryant felt for being part of the collision, he felt worse because of the strides Bynum had been taking.
“I got pushed, fell down and landed on him,” Bryant said. “I was happy to see him put a little bit of pressure on it after the game, but we’ll have to see.
“I feel bad for him because he’s been playing so well and he’s done a lot of work to get to this point. I feel just really agitated that this happened to him. He doesn’t deserve it. He’s worked extremely hard. Hopefully it’s not something that’s too severe and he’ll get back soon and be able to pick right up where he left off.”
Bynum, who will make $2.8 million this season in the final year of his rookie contract, signed a four-year, $57.4-million contract extension in October, with the final year a team option.
As for Saturday’s game, the Lakers went into a funk the rest of the first half without Bynum, trailing by as many as 13 points on the way to a 61-55 halftime deficit.
But they unleashed a 36-point third quarter and never trailed again after taking a 91-82 lead into the fourth.
“The second half, we were able to kind of collect ourselves and get back to doing what we were doing,” said Bryant, who had 25 points and seven assists.
Gasol had 24 points and eight rebounds for the Lakers (37-9).
Former USC standout O.J. Mayo had 15 points for the Grizzlies (11-35), who lost their 12th consecutive game.
Gasol probably will slide over to center and Lamar Odom will move from the second unit to starting power forward, similar to the lineup that got the Lakers through the Western Conference playoffs last season.
On Saturday, the Lakers were left shaking their heads, the similarities to last season more than notable.
A year ago, Bynum was also on an upswing, averaging 17.3 points and 12.3 rebounds in the month of January when he went down. He hoped it would be a shorter stay on the sidelines this time.
“I have to be optimistic, man,” he said. “I definitely want to return and get back to doing the things I was doing out there.”