Lakers relying on defensive duo
By Greg Beacham
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Although Andrew Bynum didn't play in the 2008 NBA finals, he remembers how it all ended. Boston Celtics fans celebrated their clinching victory by throwing rocks and other projectiles at the Los Angeles Lakers' departing bus, also rocking it back and forth.
"I only saw a couple of games, and it was crazy — the energy, the fans," said Bynum, who was out for the season with an injured kneecap. "That bus ride back to the hotel, it wasn't the greatest."
Bynum kept that memory close for the past two years, and so did most of his teammates. Although the Lakers' roster is remarkably similar to the group that lost to Boston two years ago, Bynum sees two big reasons Los Angeles might have a better shot to do the rocking this time.
Ron Artest and Bynum said yesterday they hope to play major defensive roles in the Lakers' NBA finals rematch with the Celtics, starting Thursday night at Staples Center. Artest is the Lakers' only newcomer this season, while Bynum has postponed surgery on his right knee to participate in the Lakers' playoff run.
Bynum, who had his right knee drained of excess fluid yesterday, said he is thrilled this run is ending with Boston.
"It's a great opportunity for us to get one back," Bynum said. "You never want to let something like that sit."
The Lakers stayed off the court at their training complex yesterday, watching film and absorbing coach Phil Jackson's first volley of instruction. Artest's preparation doesn't include much education on the history of this matchup — only a refresher tutorial on the offensive habits of Paul Pierce and the Celtics' forwards.
"I'm not a student," Artest said. "I just love the game. I'm not really familiar with the rivalry."
Artest replaced Trevor Ariza on the Lakers' roster last summer, filling the role as their defensive stopper — yet Ariza also was absent from the 2008 finals with an injury. Los Angeles subsequently was carved up by Pierce, who averaged 21.8 points, 6.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds against his hometown team while earning the series MVP award.
Although Artest says it takes an entire team to shut down Boston's array of offensive talent, Jackson is grateful to have a clear-cut matchup for Artest, who performed well against NBA scoring champion Kevin Durant of Oklahoma City in the first round.
"It's a huge difference for us," Jackson said. "That's a matchup that was difficult for us in the (2008) series."
The Celtics also have changed slightly, but their starting lineup is the same as it was two years ago. The 2008 Lakers started Vladimir Radmanovic — dispatched to Charlotte in a trade netting backup guard Shannon Brown — and Lamar Odom, now their sixth man, who's coming off a superb conference finals against Phoenix.
"We're a different ballclub," Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. "That series really taught us what it takes to win, the energy it takes."