There are a few words that ruin the day of any Lakers fan when thrown together in a sentence.
They are: pain, knee and Andrew Bynum.
The oft-injured Lakers center sent a tremor through the fan base when he felt pain in his right knee after going up for a rebound Sunday against Toronto.
Even before making his comeback last week against Washington, Bynum was worried about jumping twice in succession under the basket, which is when he felt a twinge Sunday — leaping for a rebound and put-back after missing a layup.
He still felt pain Monday and said his knee felt stiff during practice. "They tell me it's just something I'm going to have to deal with," said Bynum, who had cartilage repaired in his right knee in July.
There was no swelling in the knee, Bynum said, a key indicator that it might not be a big issue. In fact, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson wasn't aware that Bynum was feeling discomfort.
"I didn't hear any report about it. That's news to me," Jackson said. "He came out and practiced today. He's still tiring and that will happen as he gets game conditioning."
What made the soreness worse for Lakers followers: Bynum's effort against the Raptors — 16 points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes — was his best since returning four games ago.
He had been moving slowly through his on-court recovery process and had his worst game a couple of days earlier, an ineffective three-point outing against Philadelphia in which he missed four of five shots.
But he looked sharp against Toronto, making four of six shots and eight of 10 free throws.
"My teammates were looking for me and they passed me the ball in places I was able to do things with it," Bynum said before providing a cautionary note. "It looked a little better than I think where I'm at right now. It looks good on paper, but they're an undermanned Toronto team and I'm not looking too far into it because I know how I'm feeling."
The next three games will be important for Bynum. The Lakers play host to Milwaukee on Tuesday, which means some time for Bynum against Andrew Bogut, who averages a league-best three blocked shots a game. Then the Lakers play Miami on Christmas Day and travel to San Antonio next Tuesday, two headliner games.
Bynum said he was still at least 10 more games from feeling fully conditioned and accustomed to NBA speed, specifically feeling comfortable in the post and correctly reading double teams.
"There's so much stuff that you have to get back," he said. "But I can see myself being effective against the [next] three teams . . . just by getting low position and really going out there and trying to make myself big and make myself a big target for my teammates."
He's still not close to starting, Jackson said.
"I just can't tell you until he's got that bounce in his step that says he can now play 30, 35 minutes," Jackson said. "Right now we're content with how we're doing it."
Home sweet home
The other benefit to going 5-1 on their six-game trip was the ground covered by the Lakers in the "away" department.
The Lakers are now a solid 11-5 on the road and have played substantially more away games than San Antonio (10) and Dallas (10), who are both ahead of the Lakers in the Western Conference standings. In fact, only one NBA team (Minnesota) has played fewer home games than the Lakers' 12.
San Antonio leads the Lakers by three games in the West but soon begins a cumbersome road schedule with eight away games in January and a nine-game trip in February.
Then again, the Lakers wouldn't be looking up at Dallas or San Antonio if they hadn't had a four-game losing streak a few weeks ago.
"That four-game slip that we had really makes a difference in the standings," Jackson said. "We can't have anything happen like that again during . . . the season because San Antonio has sent a message, and Dallas too, that they're going to be consistent. They're playing strong and they have deep benches and they're going to stay up there in [the] 'wins' column."