But small has its place, too, especially in the NBA. The prevailing basketball opinion in recent years is that small rules. If you don't have a multitasking point guard who hopscotches through the lane at warp speed, says conventional wisdom, you can't compete for titles.
So call the Lakers throwbacks, because they think small is no big whoop. They're on the big bandwagon, and it's gaining momentum. Thanks largely to Andrew Bynum, a sixth-year center who finally has both feet out of the infirmary, the two-time defending champions are suddenly playing the kind of basketball that gives them an excellent chance to become three-peat champs.
On Monday night, Bynum outplayed Dwight Howard, who is officially The Best Center In The League. Bynum had 10 points, 18 rebounds and four blocks in 27 minutes. Howard had 22 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks, but also nine of his team's 18 turnovers in 43 minutes. The Lakers triumphed, 97-84, and have won 10 of 11 since the All-Star break.
But this isn't about Bynum versus Howard, but rather the Bigs against the Big-less. Give me Bynum. Give me Howard. Give me somebody else who is that big and athletic, who can stand there and swat at shots, slam home easy buckets and snatch rebounds. Give me somebody who hustles, plays with passion, and anchors his team's defense. Give me big, and you can keep small.
Yet the Lakers are in great shape, thanks to their bigs — Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom. They provide security around the hoop.
The Boston Celtics? Apparently, general manager Danny Ainge didn't get the "big" memo. He traded away Kendrick Perkins, who was seriously valuable within the context of the Celtics, but rather overrated outside of that. Without Perkins, though, the Celtics don't have that big presence to intensify their interior defense. If Shaq had a lot left, he'd be that guy. But he doesn't, and he isn't.
The Miami Heat don't have that big individual, either. Zydrunas Ilgauskas could put Erick Dampier on his shoulders and they still wouldn't equal one Bynum or Howard. That's the Heat's Achilles', but to be fair, it's true for a lot of teams.
Derrick Rose is a deserving MVP candidate for the Chicago Bulls. But center Joakim Noah is so vital to their efforts on both ends of the court that Sam Smith of NBA.com gives out what he calls his "Noah Award," to players around the league who never stop hustling.
In the West, the Oklahoma City Thunder added the Perkins piece in the deal with Boston, thereby making themselves a bit tougher inside and a tad peskier to the Lakers. San Antonio remains competitive not only because of Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, who are outstanding, but because of an overall defensive effort led by big man Tim Duncan. The Dallas Mavericks are in the hunt not just because of Dirk Nowitzki, but also because of Tyson Chandler.
But it's Bynum who is raising the most eyebrows these days. Speculation has it that trade chatter before the February deadline lit a blaze under him. Then there is also the notion that he is finally healthy and in game condition.
Whatever it is, Bynum's resurgence has triggered the Lakers' revival. Before, both the young center and the rest of the veteran club were plodding along, ankle deep in the muck of hoops mediocrity. Now they're playing championship-caliber basketball.
That leads to the greater philosophical debate about whether to win now at all costs, or set yourself up to win later. The Celtics claim the acquisition of Jeff Green in the Perkins swap was not only done in anticipation of Paul Pierce's eventual decline, but to improve themselves now. Those who believe that appear to be in the minority.
Sometimes you can overthink these things. There's always the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" school. Bynum and the Lakers are cranking. Bynum is so active that he's contesting almost every shot — and, it should be noted, making smart judgments about avoiding dumb fouls. He's pursuing every rebound the way Charlie Sheen pursues cameras.
And in the process, he's making life a lot easier for Gasol, Odom, Kobe Bryant and the rest of his teammates.
He's in his sixth season, yet he's only 23. So far, his career has been marked by inconsistency, so that's why his current tear is being viewed in many quarters with jaundiced eyes.
Yet Bynum has never been a problem, only an enigma. He's always worked hard and taken direction well. He fits in with his teammates. He has rarely created a story off the court. In short, he has been a model employee, except for the extended medical leaves and the perplexing see-saw nature of his past efforts.
Right now Bynum is serving as a reminder of teams and centers gone by, names like Bill Russell, Willis Reed, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon and David Robinson, who powered their teams with might from the middle.
Make no mistake, Bynum hasn't shown over an extended period of time that he's anywhere near being in their league. But he's just beginning the formal application process of trying to gain membership. That process takes years, and there's no guarantee of admission.
In the meantime, he's also illustrating that big still looms large in the NBA.
Y! Sports: For Roy Hibbert, a sense of ownership means knowing he should have fought to get in the game with two seconds remaining in overtime, when his absence allowed LeBron James to hit the winning lay-up.
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