Bynum must play with Gasol too

When Kobe Bryant was asked about Pau Gasol's injury Sunday night after the Lakers' 131-96 win over the Mavericks, he brushed it off as if someone were asking him about one of his injuries.

"I'm not concerned at all," said Bryant, who treats questions about injuries like a shot at his manhood. He'll be fine.

Bryant is no doctor, but the Lakers can only hope his diagnosis of Gasol's strained left hamstring is correct. Gasol complained to coach Phil Jackson of tightness in his hamstring while stretching before the game and was forced out with 4:48 left in the first quarter. After being evaluated in the locker room, he was ruled out for the rest of the game and will undergo an ultrasound test on Monday.

Gasol missed the first 11 games of the season after straining his right hamstring, and there's some concern within the team that the latest injury, while unrelated, might sideline him just as long if his left hamstring responds to treatment as slowly as his right one did.

"Maybe he's going to be fine tomorrow," said an optimistic Jackson. "We think Andrew [Bynum] can handle the load and might even embellish his individual presence to be on the floor without Pau at times. Lamar [Odom] is certainly very comfortable playing that power [forward] position, and we think we can be OK if we can get Ron [Artest] back on the floor."

Artest was cleared by the team to practice on Monday and could be ready to return to the lineup Tuesday when the Lakers host the Rockets, although Wednesday's game against the Clippers seems like a more realistic possibility.

No player, however, is more affected by Gasol's injury status than Bynum, who plays like an All-Star without Gasol and is almost invisible when the Spaniard is in the game.

Bynum recorded nine double-doubles in the first nine games he played without Gasol and hasn't recorded one since. In fact, Bynum hasn't recorded a single double-digit rebound game since Gasol's return on Nov. 19, a span of 22 games and counting.

He looked noticeably more comfortable in the second half against Dallas when he knew Gasol would be out of the game and he would be depended on to carry the load in the paint. He had one of his best offensive games since Gasol's return, scoring 19 points on 8-of-8 shooting, but he still struggled on the boards with only 5 rebounds.

"I'm comfortable with or without him, but I'm more needed without him, so my focus goes up a little bit [when he's not there]," Bynum said. "I got to get myself together and get more touches. You get more comfortable with more touches."

While those touches will certainly be there if Gasol is out, Bynum needs to learn to be effective when he's not touching the ball. He gets some touches, but the Lakers have a pecking order and Pau is next in line, said Bryant.

The biggest adjustment for Bynum when Gasol is in the game is adjusting to the spacing on the court. When Gasol is out, Bynum works at a 45-degree angle rather than trying to go east and west, and gains more ground in the lane. Bynum is most comfortable closer to the rim, and when he's not sharing the paint with another 7-footer that's much easier for him to do. He can square his shoulders to the basket and shoot more effectively when he has that freedom. The problem for the Lakers is that Bynum must find that comfort level when Gasol is in the game, as well.

Bynum, who was holding a copy of Robert Greene's "The 48 Laws of Power" as he left the locker room, seems to understand his challenge and might need to follow Law 25 (Re-Create Yourself) and break out of his old habits when Gasol does return.

"It's something I'm learning how to do," Bynum said. "I felt good tonight and I'll keep trying to build on it."