Source: Bynum to return vs. Nuggets

Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum will return to action Thursday against the Denver Nuggets, according to a source close to the Lakers.

Bynum, the team's budding star at center, has missed the past 32 games after suffering a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee Jan. 31 at Memphis. The source said Lakers coach Phil Jackson telephoned Bynum Tuesday night and told him he was going to be activated for Thursday's game.

Jackson has said recently that Bynum probably will start once he returns, a move that likely will send Lamar Odom back to the bench.

Bynum was averaging 14 points and 8.2 rebounds while shooting 56 percent from the floor at the time of the injury. After playing inconsistently the first two months of the season, he was emerging as a dominant force just before getting hurt at Memphis. In the 12 games before the injury, Bynum had averaged 20.8 points and 8.7 rebounds.

Many experts and league officials believed the Lakers' chances of winning the championship disappeared when Bynum went down. With Bynum sidelined by a left knee injury last season, the Lakers' front line was manhandled by the tougher Boston Celtics in their loss in six games in the NBA Finals.

If Bynum can regain the form he displayed in the weeks leading to his injury, the Lakers would be among the likely favorites to challenge for the title. They have four regular-season games remaining.

Bynum has practiced with the team since the Lakers returned from their seven-game road trip last week. After moving, twisting, running and jumping without hesitation in several practices, Bynum began lobbying Jackson to return.

The Lakers were 37-9 with Bynum in the lineup this season, 25-7 without him.

Chris Broussard is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.