When Andrew Bynum gets hurt, he gets hurt bad. He's missed 79 games due to injury in the past three seasons, and every time he and the Mini Cooper-sized knee brace he wears go up in the air, Lakers fans hold their collective breath, hoping all his joints and muscles come down in one piece.
On Tuesday, though, Bynum fought the "fragile" label and came strong in the Lakers' game against the Warriors.
Despite a bruised right hip that still hurts every time he moves, Bynum returned to the Lakers' lineup after missing the past two games, and scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds in a 104-94 victory over Golden State.
After Bynum injured his hip during the first quarter of the Lakers' game Feb. 6 at Portland, there was some thought that he would require a medical procedure to return to action. Before the All-Star break, Bynum said he might have to get a cortisone injection and have the bursa sac drained to alleviate the pain.
Instead, he opted for a combination of rest and toughness he hadn't yet shown in his Lakers career. Refusing to get a procedure that might sideline him longer and unwilling to watch another game in his street clothes, Bynum was back on the court for Monday's practice, running and wincing and guaranteeing he would be back in the starting lineup.
"When I came back yesterday for our first practice, he came in with a different focus on his face," guard Shannon Brown said. "He wasn't smiling, he wasn't playing around -- he came out and practiced like it was a game, and he showed it today. I have a lot of respect for him and what he's playing and battling through. It's hard to play when two wheels aren't all the way full."
Bynum's wheels might not have been right, but his game looked just fine in the first half Tuesday, as he shot 6-for-6 from the field. In fact, he looked like his old self until the third quarter, when he had to be taken out of the game because the pain caused him to limp and turn the ball over on back-to-back possessions.
"It hurt more for sure in the second half," Bynum said. "I had to sit out midway through the third and put ice on it. It's going to be an issue, but it's something I think I can play through."
As Bynum held his latest book, Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" ("I don't like the way it's written; everything is a 30-word description," he said), he admitted he's still weighing whether to get his bursa sac drained, a procedure that might sideline him only a game or two but could be more significant if things don't go right.
"I don't want to do it," he said. "I was thinking about it but I would rather just play with pain until the time comes when I can't play anymore. I'm more scared of the infection, and I don't want to risk it if I don't have to. I don't want to get an infection. It's not worth making the situation worse."
Coach Phil Jackson was essentially forced to put Bynum back in the game in the fourth quarter, with the Lakers unable to pull away from the Warriors (the game was tied 89-89 with 4:02 left) and Pau Gasol unable to assert himself in the paint, going 5-for-14 for 14 points with four turnovers. While a hobbled Bynum wasn't as effective as he was in the first half, his presence alone opened the floor for other Lakers.
"He played a great first half but he was limping in the third, but the way Pau was playing, we put him back in there and asked him if he could go again," Jackson said after the game. "Drew is a fast starter, I will admit that. He usually starts games quick, but that is more the continually running eventually wore into the injury he's got and made it difficult for him to run fluidly."
Bynum said he will start against the Celtics on Thursday regardless of his injury. Jackson believes the injury is "something that will dissipate quickly, and he'll be able to move through it." Either way, Bynum's performance while playing through pain was a reminder this season's version of the Lakers center shouldn't be compared with or treated with the same gentle care as the one Lakers fans have come to worry about in the past.
"He's worked on his game and worked on his craft, and he came back this summer with a lot more moves and better agility," Brown said. "He's focused now. He's maturing in his game and he's maturing as an individual. I think all of that plays a factor in how he approaches the game. He goes out there and he's aggressive, he doesn't care what people think, he doesn't care who's guarding him, and he goes out there and does what he has to do."
Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.