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News » Bynum-Oden rivalry starts with a thud 2008-10-29


Bynum-Oden rivalry starts with a thud 2008-10-29


Bynum-Oden rivalry starts with a thud 2008-10-29
LOS ANGELES - This was the moment we'd been waiting for ever since Greg Oden's first rookie campaign came to a stop before it even really got started, ending with microfracture surgery instead of Rookie of the Year honors.

This was the showdown we'd been waiting for since Andrew Bynum tantalized us with a stellar January, only to have his breakthrough season sidetracked with a knee injury of his own.

And, to be perfectly frank, we're still waiting.

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Oden-Bynum may very well become the classic center confrontation of its generation. After all, Bynum just turned 21 earlier this week (a momentous occasion chronicled in all its rain-making glory on YouTube) and Oden won't hit that milestone until January (we can only assume in similar fashion).

But on the opening night of the 2008-09 NBA season, it looked less like the second coming of Bill Russell-Wilt Chamberlain and a whole lot more like the second coming of Michael Olowokandi-Kwame Brown.

And for good measure, the Blazers' evening not only ended in a 96-76 loss to the Lakers, it ended with Oden on the bench with what was diagnosed as a mid-foot sprain. Initial x-rays were negative, but Oden will return to Portland for an MRI Wednesday.

So even under a best-case scenario, we'll be waiting a little longer for Oden to materialize as the game's next great big man.

"I hope not," Blazers head coach Nate McMillan said when asked if he thought the injury was serious. "Because he's worked so hard to get himself back. We've tried to do all we could to get him to the season and here we are in the first game and it's a tweaked ankle. So hopefully it's not anything serious. Hopefully in a couple games he can be back."

"I wanted to play in the second half," Oden said. "I was taped. I was trying to run. It just wasn't happening. I'm just trying to get through it and trying to get back. It's just a little setback. I'll still be in the gym tomorrow."

Oden apparently injured the foot with 9:20 left in the first quarter, but attempted to continue to play, even though he was noticeably limping up and down the court. So at least he has an excuse for a 0-for-4 shooting night that included a pair of missed shots from point blank range.

Bynum? Well, he appeared to be completely recovered from the injury to his left kneecap that cost him the final 47 games of last season. So how to explain missing five of his first six shots before finally getting on track during garbage time?

Look no further than the first miss for the likely reason.

Though we didn't know it at the time, the lone highlight from the much-anticipated showdown happened just 2:10 into the game. Bynum got the ball on the left block, isolated on Oden. And as the Staples Center crowd roared in anticipation, Bynum made a spin move to his left, only to find Oden holding his ground and perfectly positioned to block the shot.

Bynum's confidence appeared to be shaken by the rejection, or at least it did for the brief amount of time that both he and Oden were on the court together. He rushed his next shot badly and his timing was off on a pair of lob attempts.

When he finally did finish on a lob from Jordan Farmar during the fourth quarter, the Lakers faithful erupted, presumably in relief that the player widely believed to be the missing piece to L.A.'s championship puzzle bore at least a mild resemblance to the one that averaged 19 points, 13 rebounds and 2.3 blocks during that five-game stretch last January.

Bynum also unveiled a new move in his offensive arsenal during that fourth-quarter run that helped him finish with more respectable numbers (8 points on 4-of-10 shooting) than his early struggles might have suggested, spinning baseline and sinking an eight-foot turnaround jumper.

But those few highlights notwithstanding, the Oden-Bynum show proved to be considerably more hype than hoops.

I mean, Oden wasn't even the best rookie in a Blazers uniform Tuesday. That honor belonged to Rudy Fernandez, who came to Portland after a stellar career in Spain and certainly appears capable of translating that into NBA success after debuting with 16 points and a trio of 3-pointers.

And as far as Lakers coming back from major injuries go, Bynum took a back seat to Trevor Ariza, who missed the final 47 games of the 2007-08 regular season and wasn't exactly himself when he returned to action during the postseason. He was on Tuesday though, scoring 11 points off the bench and playing some hard-nosed defense on Brandon Roy, contributing to the 2006-07 Rookie of the Year's 5-of-15 night.

But unlike Oden, whose inside presence is being counted on to get the perimeter-oriented Blazers over the hump and into the postseason in the competitive Western Conference, Bynum can take his time developing into one of the NBA's few elite big men. That's the luxury of being the fifth option on a team that won the Western Conference last year and is favored to win it all this time around.

"He's still a young guy on our team," Lakers head coach Phil Jackson said. "We're not asking him to do anything but rebound and defend."

"It's a different team that we have," Kobe Bryant said. "We have a lot more weapons than we did before he got hurt. So some nights it's going to be his night, some nights it's going to be Pau's night, some nights it's going to be Lamar's night. We just have so many weapons. You can't judge him on averaging 17 points, 12 rebounds, because that's not what this team needs."

In contrast, the Blazers clearly need Oden to return to the court as soon as humanly possible, then stay there once he does.

We'll be waiting.


Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website: http://www.foxsports.com
Added: October 29, 2008

 

 
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