Andrew Bynum: The X-Factor in L.A. Lakers Upcoming Clash With Miami

Addition of Power Forward Joe Smith Adds Depth to an Already Strong Middle

Lakers center Andrew Bynum returned to action against Washington on Tuesday, signaling the hopeful end to his rehab from summer knee surgery.  With the acquisition (also on Tuesday) of veteran power forward Joe Smith from the New Jersey Nets; the Lakers have strengthened their core, which bodes well for the champs as they prepare for a Christmas Day showdown at Staples Center with the Miami Heat.

Bynum’s return can’t come soon enough.  And Smith, with his big 6-8, 220 frame and low impact ($1.4 million) salary, gives the team another body in the middle to go along with Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Theo Ratliff (when he returns, which is still uncertain).  The Lakers dealt guard Sasha Vujacic and a 2011 first round pick as part of the Smith deal.

Bynum is the X-factor.  Now 23 and in his fifth year with the team, Bynum has not played a full season since joining the Lakers out of St. Joseph (NJ) High School in 2005.  His talent and upside potential, though, are limitless; he’s gotten stronger every year and his shooting touch has improved dramatically.  In 65 games last season, Bynum averaged a career high 15 points per game.  His 8.3 rebounds were the most since the 2007-08 campaign, when he averaged 10.2 but only played in 35 games.

The Lakers pay Bynum $14 million a year to rebound, clog the middle and occasionally score.      The 7-0, 285 pound center looked decent in his season debut against the Wizards, scoring 7 points with 4 rebounds and two blocks.  He has about 10 days in which to tune up for the big showdown with Miami.  A healthy Bynum for at least 24 minutes on Christmas will translate into a Lakers victory.  If he’s rusty or doesn’t play, I like Miami to turn up the heat and win.

Here are the key matchups:


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