Lakers need to rest Andrew Bynum until the NBA Finals

From Phoenix

Sit him down. Sit him down from now until Boston.

Send Andrew Bynum back to Los Angeles and stick him into ice or plug him into a machine or slide him into a microwave or something.

How much more can you watch? How much more can the Lakers endure? The tear in Bynum’s knee has officially become a pain in everyone else’s neck.

End the charade. Begin his rest. From this point, he will have at least a week off before the start of the NBA Finals. Time won’t heal the torn meniscus, but perhaps it will strengthen everything around it, including his spirit, and better prepare him for more important battles ahead.

It’s a longshot. But it’s the only shot the Lakers have. They can’t continue shoving their big man on to a court where he grows smaller and smaller. They can’t continue allowing him to stumble through a plodding, painful effort of barely seven minutes, which is what happened Sunday here during the Lakers’ 118-109 loss to the Phoenix Suns in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals.

Slow on defense, slower to the basket, Bynum scored but once while picking up four fouls before being mercifully removed after playing only 34 seconds in the closing minutes of a tense fourth quarter.

Was he the reason Robin Lopez emerged from underneath his unruly mop to clatter around for 20 points? No, but Lopez got started early in the first quarter when he grabbed an offensive rebound and dunked over Bynum, a play that charged the US Airways Center crowd like it was three dozen points.

Was he the reason Amare Stoudemire emerged from underneath his big mouth to score 42 points while grabbing 11 rebounds? Of course not, but Stoudemire also got started early when he hit a jumper in Bynum’s face while being fouled, resulting in a three-point play, more bellowing and balloon rattling.

The Lakers do not need Bynum to beat the quick Suns. He only slows them down. They can beat them with Lamar Odom, assuming Odom can find his head again after his own Sunday night horror show. It says here the Lakers can shut down Bynum and still win a series they lead two games to one.

“We adjust,” said Kobe Bryant.

If the Lakers can’t beat the Suns without Bynum, then they don’t deserve to go to the NBA Finals anyway. This is not about the last week in May. This is about the first week in June. This is about a run at Kendrick Perkins and the Boston Celtics and history.

Sit him down. Take the chance. There’s no other choice.

This is not a new idea. When Coach Phil Jackson was asked afterward whether he had thought about resting Bynum for a game, he said, “Yes.”

When asked to elaborate, he said, “I’ll talk to him to see... how he feels about it. I think he was ineffective.”

Ineffective, or incapable? The numbers say that Bynum can no longer snuff out opponents on a knee that is killing him.

In the first five games of the postseason, he had three double-doubles. He tore his knee in the sixth game. He managed to play through the pain for a couple of games, but it’s finally dragging him down.

In his last five postseason games, Bynum has averaged five points and five rebounds, and how is this skid going to stop? Fans have wondered whether Bynum should have had arthroscopic surgery immediately after his April 30 injury, thus giving him a chance to be ready for the Finals. But folks around the Lakers are saying that with this particular injury, recovery time would have been longer than a month, so it wasn’t worth it.

So Bynum has had to grin and bear it. Only, he’s no longer grinning, and the Lakers are no long bearing it.

“I’m ready, I’m all right, I feel fine,” he somberly claimed Sunday night, shaking his head above the media crowd that grows larger around him every game. “It doesn’t look to me like I’m hobbling.”

Can somebody get this guy a few game tapes? Can somebody tell him it’s fine, even noble, to admit that you are hurting the team?

“I’m the same every single day,” he said. “I feel pain, then it goes away... I feel pain, then it goes away...I just need to play better.”

He wants to be on the court. Of course he does. He’s 22 years old and still searching for locker room credibility. He will never admit that his knee needs to be propped up on an ottoman instead of being banged around on a hardwood.

“Rest is not going to do anything,” Bynum said. “Surgery is the only thing that will do something.”

Fine. Let’s call it surgery. Cut Andrew Bynum out of the Lakers rotation for a week. They can survive without him now. They cannot survive without him later.

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