EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) – Andrew Bynum was helpless to stop the Boston Celtics’ pummeling of the Lakers in the NBA finals a year ago. He’s finally getting a chance to do something about bringing a title to Los Angeles.

Even with an awkward brace on his surgically repaired knee, Bynum had the best start of any Lakers player in the 100-75 Game 1 victory against Orlando. He had eight points and four rebounds playing just under 9 minutes in the first quarter.

“That’s what we want, that early inside presence out there in the ballgame, and the combination of Pau (Gasol) and Drew out there gave us that impact,” coach Phil Jackson said.

At the same time, Bynum was helping hold down Dwight Howard, who made just one shot in the game.

“That was part of our game plan, just keep him away from the basket and make him shoot shots,” Bynum said.

Still a pro basketball baby at 21, Bynum has endured two major knee injuries since becoming the youngest player ever drafted three years ago.

He was rapidly coming of age in January 2008 – shooting a league-best 64 percent – when he went up for a rebound in a game and came down on teammate Lamar Odom’s foot. Bynum underwent surgery and missed the rest of the season while rehabbing.

Then injury struck again.

Bynum tore the MCL in his right knee on Jan. 31 and missed 32 games. He returned just as the regular season was ending, giving the 7-footer barely any time to prepare for the playoffs.

“Playing a handful of games at the end of the season I think was a benefit for him,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “He didn’t fully get to rehab his knee, but he got as close as we can possibly get before he started playing. So that’s one of the things that we’re really concerned, that he fully rehabs after the season is over and he’s 100 percent. But he’s come back and played with a brace which has some limitation.”

Bynum used up some fouls working down low against Howard, having picked up three at halftime. He played fewer minutes in the second half, when Bryant carried the offensive load and Gasol, the Lakers’ other 7-footer, took over.

“Pau has been very good at looking for Andrew, feeding Andrew, getting the ball into him when he has an open spot and an opportunity, and that’s helped Andrew’s game a lot,” Jackson said.

Now the coach is looking for Bynum to strike a balance between helping shut down Howard in Game 2 on Sunday and stopping penetration.

“He’s very animated, intensely focused, on this matchup between himself and Howard, almost too much so, to the point where he still has to help,” Jackson said. “But he really has it in his mind that he’s going to stay attached to him, keep his body off the rim or away from the rebounds.”

Howard, who’s 23, first saw Bynum play in a high school All-Star game.

They were both drafted out of high school; Howard in Atlanta and Bynum in New Jersey.

“He was wider but now he’s slimmed down, gotten into better shape,” Howard said.

“His game has improved from the first time he’s been in the NBA. I really love watching him develop, and I think we both have a lot of respect for each other. Knowing that we’re like dinosaurs in the NBA, there’s not a lot of us (big men), we have to stick together.”

Now in his third year with the Lakers, Bynum was the youngest to play in a regular season game at 18 years and 6 days against Denver. He became the youngest Lakers player to record a double-double in November 2006, surpassing Magic Johnson’s mark.

“Andrew is a really good shooter,” Jackson said. “He’s a good enough shooter to have a touch and make baskets and shoot free throws, we know that. The big key with him is defensive help, defensive retreat and how active he can be at that end of the floor.”

Bynum helped hold Orlando to 30 percent shooting in the opening win.

“We can be better, but as far as the intensity, we’re going to have the same level as the other night,” he said. “We’ve just got to hold them under 100 points, that’s the way we look at it. Keeping a team under 100 points gives you your best chance to win.”

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