Los Angeles Lakers forward Luke Walton will return to full-contact practice when the team returns to Los Angeles on Thursday after their five-game road trip, and he could return to the lineup as early as Friday when the Lakers play the Utah Jazz at home.
"Walton I think will start practicing next week," coach Phil Jackson told reporters before the Lakers' game at New Orleans on Monday. "He may even get on the court Thursday when we get back and get in a practice before the Utah game."
Walton, who has only played in 24 games this season due to a pinched nerve in his lower back, has not played since Feb. 10 at Utah.
Jackson was less optimistic about placing a return date on center Andrew Bynum, who missed his fifth consecutive game on Monday against the Hornets after straining his left Achilles tendon against the Minnesota Timberwolves on March 19.
"I haven't put any timetable on Andrew at all," Jackson said. "We were hoping it would be a couple of weeks, but right now we'll just let that one go. When he's ready to go, we'll notify you. He just started walking without discomfort about two days ago. He feels free enough to walk without the boot on."
Bynum, who had hoped to return in time for the Lakers' game Sunday against the San Antonio Spurs at home, will get an MRI and be re-evaluated by doctors on Thursday.
Arash Markazi is a writer and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.