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Bynum may return Thursday

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Each day, Lakers center Andrew Bynum has inched closer to playing in a regular-season game.

Bynum, recovering from a torn medical collateral ligament in his right knee, missed his 31st game Sunday night, but he could come back as soon as Thursday night when the Lakers play the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center, and if he does, he probably will start.

While Bynum worked out again with assistant coaches before the game, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said, “There’s an outside chance that we may activate him before the week is out.”

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Jackson said Bynum will participate in more five-on-five competition today at practice but will not travel with the team for Tuesday night’s game in Sacramento.

Though Bynum hasn’t played since he was injured Jan. 31, Jackson said he wouldn’t bring his young 21-year-old center off the bench when he’s ready to play.

“I kind of envision him going back as a starter again, just because he’s got an injury that takes some activation still,” said Jackson, who emphasized the need to keep Bynum warm after pregame warmups, “[to have] him active at the beginning . . . [for] a six- or seven-minute run in the early part. But we’ll decide that when we get close to that.”

Assuming Bynum does return this week, one of the games he apparently will play in would be against Memphis this Sunday. It was against the Grizzlies that Bynum injured his right knee nine weeks ago. He also injured his left knee against the Grizzlies last season and wound up having season-ending surgery.

He’s a little wary about playing against the Grizzlies.

“The first injury was the 13th of January, the second was the 31st. Pau Gasol was on that [Grizzlies] team [last year], the second happened in Memphis with Marc Gasol,” Bynum said. “. . . So both times the Gasol brothers were present. Both times the night before I had 20-something points. . . . That’s crazy. Both times I got hurt by a teammate hitting me -- by Lamar [Odom] the first time, by Kobe [Bryant] the next time. That’s just crazy.”

Jackson said he’s heard Bynum make cracks about facing Memphis.

When asked if Bynum was letting that affect him mentally, Jackson said, “Yeah, I think so. He’s got to deal with that. I told him that it’s not about Memphis. It’s about a situation that happened. It’s not about the type of team or the color of the uniform. One was here [in Los Angeles], one was there. You can also go to that realm.”

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Odom to the bench?

If Jackson plans on starting Bynum when he comes back, it would appear that Odom would go back to coming off the bench.

But that was a subject Jackson didn’t want to discuss.

“I’m not going to go into that right now,” Jackson said. “We still have these games left. I’ll just test it out Thursday or Sunday, or whenever he [Bynum] comes back.

Odom began the season as a reserve, a role he was opposed to during training camp but eased into as the season progressed.

Odom has started the last 31 games.

Preparing for playoff opponent

In about two weeks, the Lakers will begin the playoffs, their likeliest opponents the Dallas Mavericks or the Utah Jazz. If the season ended today, the top-seeded Lakers would play the eighth-seeded Mavericks in the first round.

But because the Mavericks are just one game behind the Jazz, the Lakers are scouting both teams.

“It looks like it’s more and more those two teams that we are starting to focus on,” Jackson said.

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The Lakers are 3-0 against the Mavericks and 1-1 against the Jazz, with both teams winning at home. The Lakers face the Jazz in the regular-season finale at Staples Center.

“Utah is a team that’s extremely physical and those games are always tough on their home court, not that Dallas isn’t tough on their home floor too,” Jackson said. “It’s a very difficult battle.”

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broderick.turner@latimes.com

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