By Jason Lloyd
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: When Anderson Varejao tried subbing into the game Friday night at Atlanta, Andrew Bynum saw him coming and motioned him back off the court. Bynum had played about 8½ minutes — and he had played well — but his reasons for wanting to remain had little to do with his eight points and three rebounds.
“I’m still trying to knock down that wall of that first wind,” Bynum said. “To do that I need to play more minutes, but I think they made the right decision in taking care of my knees.”
Mike Brown ignored his request and pulled him anyway. The fact Bynum is playing nearly 30 minutes a game now and playing on back-to-backs is rather startling given how far he has come in a short period of time. He arrived in Cleveland this summer overweight, out of shape and standing on two bad knees. After a summer in the weight room with Cavs physical therapist George Sibel and the entire training staff, now he’s waiving teammates off the floor.
Brown cautioned when Bynum returned at the start of the regular season that there may come a point when the Cavs shut him down for two or three games just to give his knees a break. With one quarter of the season complete, that hasn’t been needed.
“I would be surprised if I didn’t see how hard he worked,” Brown said. “George Sibel and the rest of our performance team has done a remarkable job with him. I don’t care how good of job they do as a group, if he doesn’t buy in and if he doesn’t do the work it ain’t going to happen. I’ve seen first hand how hard he’s worked. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s at the point where he is right now knowing he still has a pretty high ceiling.”
After a difficult start to the season, Bynum is finally seeing the on-court benefit of all that summer work.
He was averaging 6.4 points and 3.8 rebounds and shooting 37 percent in his first 12 games. He was stiff, appeared to lack passion and often complained about his lack of explosiveness and need to reinvent his game. He even mentioned retirement.
Now in his last four games, Bynum is averaging 18 points, nine rebounds and two blocks while shooting 55 percent. Not surprisingly, the Cavs are 3-1 during that time.
“I’m still lacking a little bit of explosion,” Bynum said. “But my touch is coming back and my timing is coming back. I’m starting to see the ball go in.”
He’s starting to get his swagger back, too. After last week’s win against the Denver Nuggets, Bynum called J.J. Hickson an “infant” because of the size disparity between the two centers.
“He’s a monster,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “He’s a big guy. And he absolutely creates a problem for everybody. In a good way, a monster, OK?”
The offensive emphasis the last couple of weeks has been built around finding ways to get Bynum the ball in the post. Everyone has struggled with it, from Kyrie Irving learning to feed the post to Tristan Thompson learning to play off Bynum. As Brown said Saturday, this is the first time most of these guys have ever played with someone of Bynum’s size.
“Even when we all grew up and played in the backyard, there was no big guy who posted up and was a scorer down there,” Brown said. “Every big guy you ever played with from rec basketball to out at the park wanted to step out and shoot 3s so the floor was always wide open.”
Brown has been the biggest supporter of bringing Bynum to Cleveland and believing in him even when Bynum didn’t really believe in himself. Now he also fights the urge to let Bynum play even when the minutes limit indicates it’s time for him to sit — such as Friday at Atlanta. Yet as the Cavs turn the quarter-pole of the season at 7-13, progress lately has been evident thanks to Bynum.
“Not only him, but our team has gotten better in a short amount of time,” Brown said. “I think everybody can see the strides we’ve made, but we all still have a long way to go.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.