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The Hyped One Returns Out West

A Daily Babble Production

The hated (around this corner of the Interwebs, at least) purple-and-gold squad took another important step toward preparing for the playoffs last night when it got its highly touted center back on the floor.

Lakers big man Andrew Bynum made his first appearance since injuring his right MCL on January 31.  While the results were mixed, it's hard to imagine Lakers folk weren't reassured by much of what they saw from Bynum, particularly in the second half of the team's 116-102 victory over the Denver Nuggets.

Wearing a sizable brace on his right knee, Bynum didn't look too restricted as far as his overall ability to move was concerned.  He got up and down the floor and into the lane without hobbling or looking as though he had lost too much speed.

But he did show a good deal of rust in his footwork, as he remarked to TNT's Cheryl Miller at halftime.  He appeared nervous about his agility defensively and sloughed back on several pick-and-rolls, not coming out with his man setting the screen, but not hedging hard or switching either.  He also got tangled up inside on a couple of occasions, and his slower-than-normal sliding led to five fouls in 21 minutes.  Two of those led to three-point plays for the Nuggets.

At the offensive end, Bynum grew more comfortable as the game progressed.  He looked tentative at the start, not doing a lot of moving off the basketball inside early on.  On several sets, he got down the floor, found a spot on the block and floated within a two-to-three-step vicinity without working to aggressively establish post position.  There wasn't a lof of block-to-block movement either.  When he did have the ball in his hands, his footwork again looked rusty.  That led to a couple of rushed shots, including one turnaround from just outside the left block that hit nothing but glass. 

But the young center came out of recess with his aggressiveness back in tow.  He grabbed an offensive board and put it back in with a baby hook in the first minute of the third quarter.  It was the first of his three offensive rebounds for the half, each of which led to a bucket.  The second one marked Bynum's play of the night as he grabbed the ball under the hoop and went straight back up with his right hand, flushing the ball home and drawing a foul.  Less than a minute later, he caught a pass on the right block from Derek Fisher and spun to the bucket for an easy lay-in.  He finished with nine points for the quarter and added four more in the fourth, including a bucket from the right elbow off another offensive rebound.

For the night, Andrew Bynum totaled 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting to go with his seven rebounds and five fouls in 21 minutes.  While he showed the rust that one would expect after a two-month lay-off, he also looked stronger over the course of the game, especially offensively.  It does not look as though he is starting anywhere near square one again.  With three games remaining in the regular season, Bynum has the time to more fully re-acclimate himself and get prepared to be a factor in the postseason.

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