David Zalubowski/Associated Press
DENVER – Andrew Bynum is promising he’ll be on time and on target Sunday night.
The Los Angeles Lakers center acknowledged Saturday he wasn’t ready for Game 3 at Denver, when he was held scoreless in the first half of a 99-84 loss to the youthful Nuggets.
Bynum has much more responsibility in the L.A.’s offense this season, so the Lakers’ 7-foot center works long and hard before games on his balance and footwork.
He said he had to cut short that pregame preparation Friday night after arriving late to the arena.
“(Friday) we did a little bit of it, but like I said, I got there a little late, so I didn’t have as much time as I needed,” Bynum said.
“For what it’s worth, I’m going to go and be ready for (Sunday’s) game,” he said.
Bynum didn’t say what led to his tardiness, but he also acknowledged he was bothered by the altitude as the Nuggets raced out to a 24-point lead on their way to a 55-39 halftime advantage.
Befuddled by Denver’s double teams, Bynum took just three shots in the first half before bouncing back to score 18 points and pull down a dozen rebounds. However, he and Pau Gasol were outrebounded by Denver’s young duo of Kenneth Faried and JaVale McGee 30-19.
Asked Saturday how the Nuggets were able to take him out of his game in the first half, Bynum said, “I took myself out,” adding he was “maybe just not ready to play.”
He said he’ll get to the Pepsi Center “a little early, probably” Sunday night and “get adjusted to the altitude prior to the game.”
Although Bynum was 5-for-8 from the floor and 8-for-8 from the stripe in the second half, his poor performance in the first half helped put the Lakers in a hole they couldn’t climb out of.
“You hope at this time of the season everyone who steps on the floor is ready,” said Lakers coach Mike Brown, who put Bynum’s slow start among a long list of things that frustrated him.
Asked if Bynum drives him crazy, Brown said, “I think at one point or another everybody on the team drives me crazy, just like I’m sure I drive them crazy.”
With so much of the offense running through Bynum now, it was surprising to hear him admit he was tardy and not ready for a playoff game.
“He’s extremely open and honest with you guys,” Kobe Bryant told a group of reporters gathered at the team hotel Saturday. “I’m sure you guys appreciate that.”
Bryant said he wasn’t angered by Bynum’s admission.
“No, the first step to improving as a player is admitting to yourself that you’ve done something wrong and (knowing) how to correct that,” Bryant said. “I do the same thing, too. I just don’t tell you guys.”
But not being ready for a playoff game?
“No, I’m always ready. I’m always ready,” Bryant said. “But there’s some mistakes that I make” that he doesn’t share with the public.
Pressed if he thought it was disconcerting to hear Bynum wasn’t ready for a playoff game, Bryant said: “Yeah, I mean, hopefully you guys will stick it to him good enough to where it sinks in for him.”
Bryant said Bynum still is learning how to handle himself in the playoffs while being targeted with a steady diet of double teams.
“It’s a process for him because he’s never had to see these types of coverages in the postseason; teams mix up coverages, mix up looks,” Bryant said. “I think it’s good for him. I try to throw the ball into him as much as I can so he can constantly work on that, get better at it. If we’re fortunate enough to advance to the next rounds, he’s going to be seeing a lot more of that, so it’s important for him to really be efficient.”
The Lakers never trailed in winning the first two games, but they were powerless during a 28-2 spurt by the Nuggets in the first half Friday night that gave Denver a double-digit cushion.
Instead of limiting their stars’ minutes after that or conceding this one, the Lakers fought back and made a game of it, cutting the deficit to four points in the third quarter.
“I’m not a big fan of 20-point leads in the first half,” said Nuggets coach George Karl, noting that teams with big early cushions tend to get lazy. “I’m kind of glad it turned out to be a hard game, at least a game where we had to make fourth-quarter plays.
“My speech to the team was sometime (Saturday) you all got to stop being happy ... Because the fight we’re going to have (Sunday) is going to be harder.”
And this time, Bynum promises to be ready from the start.