Bynum’s return to Lakers may be month away

Lakers center Andrew Bynum flashes a smile toward the bench during game against the Milwaukee Bucks on January 11, 2008.
(Richard Hartog / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Andrew Bynum‘s return from a knee injury might not be until close to the end of the regular season, Coach Phil Jackson suggested Friday.

“That’s still perhaps a month away, maybe, whatever,” he said when asked about the team adapting to Bynum’s return. “I can’t even put a date on it. It’s just too early to think of it like that.”

The Lakers’ last regular-season game is April 15 against Sacramento. Their first playoff game will be either April 19 or 20.

Bynum could begin jogging on a treadmill next week, but Jackson already sensed a challenging adjustment period when the 20-year-old returned to the court, particularly with Pau Gasol now in the mix.

“Very difficult, especially when [Bynum] has never played with a player like that,” Jackson said. “Regardless of how Andrew comes back, he’s not going to start at 100%. He’s going to start somewhere where it’s going to be, ‘Is he in basketball condition now to play eight, 10 minutes, six minutes,’ whatever it is.

“When we put him on the court, it’s going to be in relief to start with. He’s going to come off the bench and play a secondary role, probably, to start with. And then as he gets a couple games where it looks like he can sustain the effort and his conditioning improves, then we’ll work on how it fits together.

“Now, if this is in the playoffs, it’s almost impossible to do that because you don’t want to break up the chemistry. It’s going to be handled just the right way.”

Bynum has been out since sustaining a bone bruise on his left knee and a brief dislocation of the kneecap in a Jan. 13 game against Memphis.

There’s a decent fight for the seventh and eighth spots in the Western Conference, although the Lakers are reluctant to acknowledge it while battling San Antonio for the conference’s top spot.

“I’m not really watching that,” Jackson said. “We’re still 15 games away from that. The last eight, 10 games, you start watching everything that everybody does.”

Dallas (39-23) is currently seventh and Golden State (38-23) is eighth, but Denver (37-24) is within striking distance.

The players admit to some scoreboard watching but also refuse to look too far into the future.

“After the game, I like to see the scoreboard just to see how other teams have played, so I have an idea a little bit,” Sasha Vujacic said. “But for our opponent for the playoffs, I’m not even thinking about it.”

How come?

“What happened last year to Dallas, it was a good experience for everybody -- you should never predict,” Vujacic said. “When you’re doing that, you’re going to get stabbed in the back.”

Dallas, the top-seeded team in the West last season, lost to eighth-seeded Golden State in the first round.