by Brendan Bowers / @BowersCLE
Regardless of how many ligaments are left in his knees, Andrew Bynum remains a difference-making presence each time he steps on to an NBA court.
Over the last two games—heading into the Cleveland Cavaliers’ matchup with the Atlanta Hawks on Friday—Bynum has averaged 17 points and 8.5 rebounds. More importantly, that production has also come during victories over two Playoff teams in the Chicago Bulls and Denver Nuggets.
After being sidelined with injury for all of last year, this is the best Bynum has played since May of 2012. The result has been back-to-back wins for the Cavaliers for the first time all season.
“It just feels like we’re a different team right now,” Bynum told SLAM on Wednesday after totaling 14 points and 7 rebounds in a 98-88 victory over the visiting Nuggets. “Our plays are working themselves out offensively and things are coming together.”
Cleveland’s season had been off to a dreadful start. With playoff expectations accompanying Mike Brown’s return to the 216, the Cavs collapsed out the gate. Prior to winning in Chicago this past weekend, the Cavaliers had amassed an ugly 4-12 record.
During that win over the Bulls, the Cavs rallied around Bynum who went for 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks. Along the way, he continued to remind his teammates of the All-Star he used to be in Los Angeles.
“I’m seeing more and more flashes of the old Andrew,” Anderson Varejao said. “He’s done a great job in practice and he’s working really hard to get back to where he was before he got hurt. We all know it’s going to take some time and he’s going to have some ups and downs, but he’s been great.”
Varejao, who missed all but 25 games last year with blood clot complications last season, appears to be getting back into NBA shape at the same time as Bynum. In the Cavs’ most recent victory, Varejao finished with 18 points and 13 rebounds while attempting only nine field goals.
“Varejao was amazing,” Bynum said on Wednesday night. “And Tristan (Thompson) was a workhouse, man. With Kyrie coming out and setting the tempo, we just tried to play off him inside.”
Bynum meant that Thompson was Rodman-like on glass while nearly registering the first 20-20 game of his career playing opposite Kenneth Faried. Thompson grabbed 9 rebounds in his first nine minutes before finishing the first half with 13. By the time the clock hit zeros, Thompson had collected a game-high 21 boards to go along with 17 points.
“I feel like we’re learning how to play alongside a traditional center with the talent and ability that Andrew has right now,” Thompson said. “In addition to that, myself, Andy, Andrew, everyone is rebounding too.”
Learning to play alongside Bynum has been a theme that Coach Brown has referenced repeatedly throughout the early part of this season. While it may have initially sounded similar to an excuse for losing, there is certainly merit to his point about the adjustment.
Thompson, for example, hasn’t played alongside a traditional center like Bynum at any point in his NBA career. He’s even spent considerable time playing the position himself due to lack of other options in Cleveland over the last two years.
But for those still watching in Cleveland, there are signs of momentum building on the interior. Bynum, Thompson and Varejao combined for 41 rebounds against the Nuggets as compared to the 43 Denver collected as a team.
Heading into Friday night in Atlanta, those three bigs have also averaged a combined 44.5 points and 34.5 rebounds during these last two wins. As long as that continues, Irving and company will have a chance to beat anybody in the League moving forward.
“Their bigs just beat up on our bigs,” Nuggets coach Brian Shaw said on his way out of Cleveland. “Andrew Bynum, Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson just wore us down.”
The loss snapped a streak of seven straight wins for Denver and gave Cavs fans a real reason to believe for the first time since opening night. Despite the encouraging development, though, Bynum wasn’t ready to celebrate just yet as his focused shifted to Atlanta.
“My performance could be better,” he said about Wednesday’s win. “But the team played really well.”
Truth is, as long as Bynum is commanding the attention he has been inside lately, Irving and these Cavs will have a chance to keep playing really well on a nightly basis.