Lakers Vs. Nuggets, NBA Playoffs: Andrew Bynum Continues Maturation Process

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 01: Andrew Bynum #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers and Christian Eyenga #88 laugh from the bench during a 104-100 win over the Denver Nuggets in Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 1, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Bynum averaged 18.5 points, 11 rebounds, and six blocks in the first two games against Denver.

There comes a time when things really change, when people really mature and that time is finally here. It's Andrew Bynum I'm referring to, the seven-foot center everyone will have their eyes on this postseason, all while the Los Angeles Lakers are pursuing a championship. It's not over, folks. It's just getting started, and already Bynum is a fundamental piece at center court under the lights in Staples Center, where he has put on a show lately, drawing much attention with his recent progress.

If Bynum is healthy and pushes around the Denver Nuggets under the basket, like he did in Game 1 with 10 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks for a triple-double, or in Game 2 with a career playoff high 27 points, then every team should beware of the oversized giant who resides in Hollywood. Bynum is the Lakers right now, even if his teammate, Kobe Bryant, is the superstar, best finisher and greatest clutch performer of all time in the city of entertainment. For so long we've sensed that he was a teenybopper and could've easily mistaken him for one -- not a matured player at the age 24 -- with his acts of childish nonsense and defiance that normally emanated from emotions he released during intense, dire moments in the game.

So now, in the aftermath of the first two games against Denver, we have second thoughts about Bynum. Game 1 was probably the most impressive performance from Bynum, a well-rounded game by a player who has size, stamina and seriousness, knowing he's the dynamic force necessary to dominate in the Lakers' favor, a team hungry for a second championship in three years. This wasn't the type of game that he rashly attempted shots well out of his range or one of those games where he was benched by head coach Mike Brown. It was a breakthrough game, creating plenty of conversation following a game that he contested shots, disrupted penetration to the basket and controlled the tempo.

He is surely the player to watch for this postseason and, in truth, finally played like an all star in a playoff game, catching our eyes with an NBA tying-record 10 blocks, a plateau that won't be touched this postseason. It's not a team that comprise of much depth, but with the presence of Bynum, who is freakishly a monster in the post, muscular and can patrol the paint by denying nearly every shot attempt and corralling rebounds with authority, the Lakers can be unstoppable. Staying focused and possessed, Bynum seems as if he's on his best behavior, aggressively earning his job title as one of the most dominant centers in the league if not the most dominant, now that an unhappy Dwight Howard is out for the postseason after having season-ending back surgery.

It's really a good thing the Lakers never traded Bynum, dating back to when he was considered to be on the trading block for Howard earlier in the regular season, and instead Jim Buss decided to keep him in the lineup to contribute for the Lakers this postseason -- on a mission to win a 17th championship. Indeed Nuggets center JaVale McGee, 24, is no match for Bynum, now unfazed by criticism as he moves into the company of Hakeem Olajuwon and Mark Eaton, tying a playoff record of 10 blocks -- surpassing all-time Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's franchise record of nine.

Bynum's effort is what Brown expected out of him earlier in the season. All of a sudden, Bynum pleased his coach by committing to Brown's coaching style. As Brown constantly emphasizes defensive effort, Bynum past his real test and the Lakers won Game 1 defensively, holding the league's highest-scoring team to 88 points. Brown has a chance, despite his bizarre coaching and taking so much criticism for half of the season, to preach and put a strong emphasis on defense with his ability to install trust and communication among his players. If Bynum continues to block every shot attempt and collect every rebound, again, watch out. The Lakers can indeed win a championship at this rate. It's the playoffs now, a whole different mentality. And Bynum's mindset is there. From the beginning to the end, he was the most important player on the floor, maybe even more of a megastar than Bryant. At game's end, he registered a triple-double, the first of his seven-year career, and over on the bench Kobe sat relieved and wore a smile. The last Lakers' player to post a triple-double was Magic Johnson, who captured the feat against the Chicago Bulls in Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals. That does not mean Bryant will be absent for the rest of this series, but he's never had a triple-double in an amazing NBA career.

He was clearly the best, though it is likely Denver point guard Ty Lawson will bounce back from an inferior performance. But here were the Lakers, keeping one of their best players from getting to the basket easily. The point is the Lakers were prepared, realizing the Nuggets score much of their points on layups but this time Bynum denied them under the basket. It does seem likely that the Lakers have a chance to win the championship. Bynum is a bully, a pesky seven-footer with size of a bodybuilder and the knack of an athletic center.

It makes sense to go out on the ledge and say the Lakers are absolutely a championship-driven team. There is a bona fide tandem in Los Angeles, as it turns out with the likes of Bynum and Bryant, who scored 30 points, despite a slow start in a quiet matinee. The emergence of Devin Ebanks, the replacement for the suspended Metta World Peace, was scorching early on and had 12 points and 5 rebounds. And then, Jordan Hill, who scored 10 points and had 10 rebounds off the bench, gets involved by grabbing rebounds that give the Lakers second-change opportunities. He can dance in the paint, leap for the ball and outrebound opponents.

With hopes that Bynum is real, becoming disruptive on defense and the second-scoring option to Bryant, he can be a nightmare for many. It's almost impossible to stop him when he's on his game, a versatile defender who changed the complexion in Sunday's game and then excelled on the offensive end Tuesday night.

If the Lakers win and erase an embarrassing loss after Dallas swept them in the second round of the playoffs last season, don't forget to thank Bynum.

For more news and notes on Lakers basketball, be sure to read Silver Screen and Roll.

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