Big Men Return to Form in Playoffs
Rust? What rust?
Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum hadn't played since March 19 because of a strained left Achilles tendon. Not that it was evident Sunday, beyond Bynum getting winded earlier than usual.
His 13 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots helped the No. 1 seed begin defense of their NBA title with an 87-79 win vs. the No. 8 Oklahoma City Thunder to open their Western Conference series.
"The coaches challenged me to play defense, alter as many shots as possible and get every rebound, and that's what my focus is," said Bynum, who played 30 minutes, somewhat more than planned.
Bynum wasn't alone in a big return.
Cleveland Cavaliers center Shaquille O'Neal missed the final 23 games of the regular season after surgery on his sprained right thumb. In No. 1 Cleveland's 96-83 opening Eastern win Saturday vs. the No. 8 Chicago Bulls, a slimmer O'Neal had 12 points, five rebounds, four assists and three blocks in 24 minutes.
"You can see that all his hard work is starting to pay off, not only for himself but as a team," Cavaliers coach Mike Brown said. "The guys feed off him being a presence offensively and defensively in the paint, and he was a presence."
Forward Kenyon Martin, who sat out 18 of the last 21 games with left knee tendinitis, had seven points and 12 rebounds in the No. 4 Denver Nuggets' 126-113 Western win Saturday vs. the No. 5 Utah Jazz.
"I'm just trying to pick up where I left off before I missed all those games, rebounding the ball, being active," Martin said.