Lakers center Andrew Bynum is out until playoffs


Then there’s the other starter who sat out Thursday’s game....

Lakers center Andrew Bynum missed his ninth game because of a strained left Achilles’ tendon, though he pledged to return by a fairly important date — April 18.

“I’m going to play the first game of the playoffs,” he said before the Lakers played Denver, staying back in the locker room with Kobe Bryant, who sat out because of swelling in his right knee.

Bynum missed 32 games down the stretch last season because of a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee, but said it wouldn’t take as long for him to return to form this time.

In fact, he seemed to look forward to a series of practices after the Lakers finish the regular season Wednesday against the Clippers.

“It’s definitely going to be a couple of games before you get into your rhythm, but I do have a bunch of practice days to get it in and get my touch back,” he said.

There’s no rush for Bynum to return, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.

“I actually told ‘Drew it’s not ultimately earth-shattering if he doesn’t get back before the playoffs rather than get a guy who can play 80% or 70% or whatever percent we want to throw out there,” Jackson said.

Bynum initially wanted to play the last game or two of the regular season. Then reality entered the picture. “At first I was kind of excited, I wanted to do it,” he said. “But then it’s like, ‘What’s the point?’ It’s just another possibility to go back a couple of steps.”

Desperately seeking identity

The Lakers have been struggling for weeks, and they know it.

“A lot of people like to say each team has its own identity, but we haven’t quite put our stamp on what our identity is going to be this year as opposed to last year and teams in the past,” said 14-year veteran Derek Fisher, a member of three Lakers championship teams.

“For guys like the coaching staff, myself, Kobe, I think it’s a little more frustrating for us because of what we’ve experienced and what we’ve been through. Oftentimes we have to remember that we are still a team full of guys that haven’t been here before, don’t quite know what it takes to be the best again and again and again. A hundred times in a season, you’ve got to figure out how to be the best.

“The frustration comes and goes, but we’re all in this together.”

Fisher wasn’t buying into the fact the Lakers are in a gray area, unable to catch Cleveland for the NBA’s best record but too far ahead of the rest of the Western Conference to fret.

“Unfortunately, that’s the reality, but . . . I don’t think that should in any way consciously give us a reason to step back and not try to do things still in a championship way,” Fisher said.

Sympathy for Salvatore?

A few days after being fined $35,000 for criticizing referee Bennett Salvatore, Jackson seemed to take his side after the NBA released a statement that the referees missed a late foul call in Tuesday’s Oklahoma City-Utah game.

“I think it’s disabling your officials and showing a lack of confidence there, but who am I to say?” Jackson said.

Salvatore was one of three referees working the game, which was won by Utah after C.J. Miles was not called for a foul on a last-second shot by Kevin Durant.