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Brown is braced for return

Times Staff Writer

With his left knee sporting a tape job perfected on NFL lineman and with his left ankle supported by a rigid brace, Kwame Brown played for the first time in 20 games Friday. And even his coach admitted it wasn’t stylish.

“He’s got a knee brace on. He’s got ankle braces on,” said Phil Jackson, who sent Brown onto the floor with 5:28 left in the first quarter against Utah. “He looks like a gladiator.”

By his own admission, Brown said it could take a week or more before he’s able to contribute significant minutes. But once he’s back at full speed, the 6-foot-11 center figures to split playing time with Andrew Bynum, something that could keep both players strong in the second half.

“Andrew’s playing so well right now. I think that’s got everybody excited,” Brown said. “I’m sure that’s a good problem for the coaches to have. That will just make us a stronger team. Because whether I come off the bench or I start, you have two centers who can start.

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“That’s a good problem to have.”

Jackson, however, still considers the 20-year-old Bynum, in his third NBA season, something of a work in progress.

“The biggest thing with Andrew is just getting out and playing the game,” he said. “Running the court. Using his assets, which is height and his reach to rebound, defend the basket, block shots, activate the offense.”

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The Lakers remain uncertain when forward Luke Walton, out a week because of a sprained right ankle, will be back.

“It feels a lot better,” Walton said Friday. “But to play basketball it’s got to feel good enough to play defense and rebound and run.”

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Center Chris Mihm was one of the top age-group tennis players in Texas as a teenager, although he admitted height wasn’t necessarily an advantage. But that’s not why the 7-footer gave up the sport.

“I really quit to concentrate on basketball,” he said. “I never really had a big growth spurt where I grew like seven inches in one summer. But I grew like three inches a year in high school.”

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kevin.baxter@latimes.com


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