Return of Bynum will help Lakers

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LOS ANGELES --- Although the Lakers' season ended with a thud, they have Andrew Bynum coming back and youth and Kobe Bryant on their side, so they can say "Wait 'til next year" and be taken seriously.

Since Shaquille O'Neal left town with three championship rings following the 2003-2004 season, Los Angeles has been vulnerable inside on both ends of the floor. Boston's big men, exemplified by Kevin Garnett in Game 6, were more than the Lakers could handle.

As the Celtics were romping to a 131-92 victory in their clinching Game 6 Tuesday night, a Boston fan held a sign that read, "Kobe, You Can't Do Jack Without Shaq."

Bryant might be able to do that and more with 7-foot, 285-pound Bynum at center and 7-0 Pau Gasol at forward.

Acquiring Gasol in February turned the Lakers' season around, helping them win the tough Western Conference and come within two games of taking the league title. But Gasol, a 250-pounder, didn't have the bulk needed to match up against heftier players.

"They overran us. Garnett knocked Pau down in the lane and scored an easy basket in the first four or five possessions and set kind of a tone," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.

Bryant's options were limited because he couldn't drive to the hoop consistently. The Celtics could.

Asked what Bynum will bring to the team, Bryant said, "Rebounding and shot-blocker in the middle. He solves a couple of those."

Sidelined since Jan. 13 by a knee injury and ensuing surgery, Bynum was averaging 13.1 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2.06 blocks and was shooting a league-high 63.6 percent from the floor when he went up for a rebound and came down on teammate Lamar Odom's foot.

The freak injury occurred as Bynum seemed to be rapidly coming of age. He is expected to be ready to go by the start of next season.

CHARLES KRUPA/ASSOCIATED PRESS


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