INDEPENDENCE — Apparently, it is possible to make a 7-foot, 294-pound man disappear.
Cavaliers center Andrew Bynum had 13 points on 6-for-12 shooting and seven rebounds while playing 14 minutes, 54 seconds in the first half Tuesday against the Portland Trail Blazers.
In the second half, the eighth-year pro scored zero points, took no shots and had two rebounds in 11:43.
The Cavs scored more points than they had in any regulation game this season in falling 119-116 to the Blazers at The Q — guards Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters had 25 each — but a simple adjustment by Portland took Bynum totally out of the game.
“If we can get him the ball, I’d love to get him the ball,” Cleveland coach Mike Brown said. “Right now, we don’t know how to get him the ball when teams front him.”
That’s what the Blazers did in the second half, and the Cavs didn’t have an answer.
Part of the problem is many of the Cavs, particularly Irving and Waiters, are playing with a legitimate low-post center for the first time. Cleveland players often struggle to find the correct angle to deliver the ball, or sometimes forget entirely about getting Bynum the rock.
“The reality for us right now, as a young team that really hasn’t played a ton with a big like that, we have a tough time when teams front him,” Brown said. “Sometimes it brings us to a standstill and makes us real stagnant offensively. We’ve got to figure it out.”
The sooner, the better, because more teams are likely to play Bynum the way the Blazers did.
“You can’t play Andrew Bynum straight up,” Brown said. “I don’t care who you are. If you play him straight up and allow us to throw him the ball, he’s going to make plays. He’s either going to score it or make the right pass out.”
The good news regarding Bynum, who came back after surgery on both knees, is that he has appeared in 20 games (15 starts) for the Cavs. Better still, he has started 14 straight heading into a game against Milwaukee on Friday at The Q.
“We’re happy where he is,” Brown said. “He can still be a lot better. He knows it. We know it.
“In the same breath, we’ve got to continue trying to figure out how to work with him to make the game easier for him. He’s got to keep having the patience with our young guys and understand we’re working with him and trying to play the game the right way.”
For the season, Bynum is averaging 8.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.1 blocks in 19.5 minutes. He’s shooting .444 from the field and .763 at the line.
Especially given Bynum’s ability to get healthy and stay that way to this point, there have been many more positives than negatives, but the Cavs still have some decisions to make regarding the center’s future.
Bynum is guaranteed $6 million this season. If he’s on the roster on Jan. 10, 2014, he will get $12.25 million for 2013-14. The second year of his deal, worth $12.54 million, becomes guaranteed on July 11, 2014.
Not long ago, keeping Bynum for the duration of his deal seemed like a no-brainer. In a four-game stretch from Nov. 30 to Dec. 12, he averaged 18.0 points and 9.0 rebounds while playing with solid energy.
But just when it looked like he had turned a corner, the 26-year-old went into a lull. In his last three games prior to Tuesday, Bynum had averaged just 3.0 points and 4.7 rebounds.
“He’s very skilled,” Brown said. “I even told him a month ago, in my opinion, at worst, he can be as effective as (Indiana center Roy) Hibbert if he doesn’t get his bounce back. Hibbert’s a skilled big guy, but Hibbert doesn’t have the necessary footwork and bounce that Andrew has.”
Right now, Bynum’s biggest shortcoming is his lack of mobility defensively. While he still has good quickness in the low post, numerous knee surgeries have made him a liability when he’s facing a center that can step away from the basket and hit jumpers or drive to the hoop.
Bynum struggled mightily against Chris Bosh when the Cavs played the Miami Heat on Saturday, leaving Brown no choice but to go with Anderson Varejao and Tristan Thompson for the majority of the game.
Brown, however, thinks that part of Bynum’s game will also improve.
“I’ve seen flashes,” he said.