Walton hopes to be back in early April

Los Angeles Lakers forward Luke Walton, who has missed the last 16 games because of lower back problems, is practicing with the team, working to strengthen and condition his back in hopes of returning to the lineup in early April.

"I'm definitely going to go. Hopefully physically my back stays strong enough and doesn't regress to where it was before," Walton said Tuesday afternoon at practice in El Segundo as the team prepared for an upcoming five game road trip.

His current absence marks the second time this season Walton has had to overcome back issues. In November he underwent surgery to relieve pain caused by a pinched nerve and missed 28 games. He returned for 17 games before the pain returned and he was again forced from the lineup.

Walton indicated the setback after his first return is playing into the team's current strategy.

"I feel good right now," he said, "but if we start going hard now and it's still a month away from the playoffs and maybe right before the playoffs [something happens]? There's no way to know how it will respond."

Walton said offseason surgery remains an option, but will wait until after the season to decide any course of action.

"I've been talking to a lot of doctors and different therapists. There are definitely a couple of different options," he said.

Now, though, his priority is doing what he can to get back on the floor to aid however he can in a high-pressure push for the Lakers to repeat as NBA champions.

"We know we have to be at a much higher level when the playoffs start," he said. "Anything else besides a championship, that's a lost season for us."

Brian Kamenetzky cover the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com and is co-author of the Land 'O Lakers blog.