Updated: December 17, 2012, 1:44 AM ET

1. Bynum vs. Bryant? Kobe Takes Round 1

By Tom Sunnergren
Special to ESPN.com

To say the first quarter of the 2012-13 season hasn't gone as expected for the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers -- half of the principals in the landscape-altering Aug. 10 blockbuster that saw Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and Andre Iguodala change hands-- wouldn't be saying enough.

With a franchise center in Bynum, Philadelphia figured to contend in an Eastern Conference that looked, north of Miami, to be assailable, while the Lakers reckoned their swap of the league's No. 2 big man for its No. 1 -- an upgrade that likely wouldn't have even occurred to one of the league's 29 less-entitled franchises -- and their heist of a HOF point guard a month earlier would fast track their quest for Kobe's sixth ring. The rest of the Association, wearily, nodded in agreement.

Howard Smith/USA TODAY SportsDwight Howard is the latest big in the spotlight.

But though Philadelphia's ordinariness was sealed the moment Bynum's cranky knees began acting up, the source of the Lakers' uneven start has proved harder to finger.

While much ink has been spilt cataloguing all that has hindered Los Angeles' senior team -- injuries to Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, a problematic turnover differential, the coaching change, et al -- on Sunday, their departed center hinted at what could be ailing them.

His hint: Kobe Bryant.

***

Speaking to an assemblage of Los Angeles reporters before the Lakers eventual 111-98 shellacking of a 76ers team he has yet to don a uniform for, Bynum suggested that Bryant's sky-high usage rate cramped his development in his later years in L.A. -- and might be affecting his replacement.

After crediting Kobe for demanding defensive attention and making it difficult for teams to double him, Bynum admitted that "Later, I felt I was able to get the ball more and do more things with the ball, so I could definitely see how it could stunt growth."

The still-hobbled center added that Dwight Howard might be having similar problems adjusting to the unique demands that come with operating in Kobe's world.

"I think Dwight is a great player, but he's going to have to get accustomed to playing with Kobe and not touching the ball every single play," Bynum said.

Once the basketball began, Bryant, who, at this point has grown accustomed to enduring withering criticism from old teammates (men have healthier relationships with their ex-wives than he does with his former centers), offered a scathing rebuttal.

***

In a return to the hometown he's long had a thorny relationship with, Bryant started hot and stayed that way. He kicked off the scoring with a fadeaway jumper thirty seconds in and proceeded to, on the strength of a dizzyingly deep assortment of moves that flummoxed the league's eighth-ranked defense, score 11 of the Lakers' first 23; the final two of which came off a back-door feed from Darius Morris that required he whip by two Sixers and then, with Spencer Hawes' paws in his face, hang suspended -- patiently waiting for the laws of physics to have their way with his opponent -- before bouncing it off the glass for a 23-22 lead. He's 34.

Bryant was similarly effective down the stretch. When Philadelphia -- which shot, by its own standards, a white-hot 49 percent from the floor and 10-of-25 from 3-points; this minus point guard Jrue Holiday -- narrowed the Lakers' advantage to 91-82 on a Spencer Hawes 3, Kobe hit a jumper out of a timeout, fed Howard and Chris Duhon on a pair of buckets, then sunk a 3-pointer of his own for his 34th and final point.

And though his Lakers generally struggle when he doesn't -- Sunday's win was just their third in the 14 games this season that Kobe's broken 30 points -- in Philadelphia, the supporting cast was galvanized by Kobe's success, not enervated by it. Howard, though occasionally stymied by Kwame Brown, managed a 17/11 line, Metta World Peace scored 19 points and grabbed a season-high 16 rebounds, and a platoon of shooters, led by Darius Morris, who netted a career-best 15 points, hit 14 3-pointers for L.A., including 10 in the first half.

"When you throw the ball up every night, it's about 48 minutes of playing hard. Two nights in a row, it's worked," Mike D'Antoni told reporters after the game.

For a Lakers team still three games under .500, and nine off-pace in a Western Conference it figured to run away with, it'll take more than two wins to turn around what has been an incredibly disappointing season. And Kobe Bryant, problem or solution, will be at the center of the effort.

No one knows where Andrew Bynum will be.

Tom Sunnergren's work appears regularly on Philadunkia, an ESPN TrueHoop blog

Dimes past: Dec. 1 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7-8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14-15

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