Bynum, Walton could return next week

Lakers coach Phil Jackson said he hasn't ruled out Andrew Bynum returning during the current five-game road trip. But Jackson doesn't anticipate his center playing before the team returns to Los Angeles next week.

"He did say he is feeling a lot better today," Jackson said before the Lakers played the Spurs. "I can't see [him returning] right now but it's a hopeful note."

Bynum, who suffered a strained left Achilles' tendon against Minnesota Friday, is targeting the Lakers' first home game back against the Jazz on April 2 or against the Spurs on April 4 for his return. If he misses those games he would get an additional three days rest before the Lakers travel to Denver on April 8.

"I want him to consistently take off from that leg and foot," Jackson said. "I think that would be the key. A lot of it is about stopping, which is interesting. A lot of injuries happen when guys gear down to stop. More of the concern for a player like Andrew is getting off and elevating."

Bynum, who is still wearing a plastic walking boot, might not be the only player coming back when the Lakers return home next week. Luke Walton, who is on the road trip with the team and returned to practice this week, could be in the lineup as early as next week. Walton has played in 24 games this season while battling a pinched nerve in his lower back. Jackson believes his absence is partly to blame for the Lakers' bench struggling this season.

"We really miss Luke Walton because he was a facilitator and played with the bench guys," Jackson said. "The bench not playing at a top performance level is a concern for me. We're losing leads and we want to be able to extend them. You want to be able to rest guys on the bench but when you start losing leads the starters have to come back and play extended minutes."

Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.