- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

NEW YORK | Los Angeles Lakers center Andrew Bynum will miss eight to 12 weeks after tearing the medial collateral ligament in his right knee.

The diagnosis Monday was a relief to Bynum, who initially feared he might be out for the season. Bynum was hurt in the first quarter of Saturday night’s win at Memphis when Kobe Bryant drove to the basket, missed the shot and crashed into Bynum’s leg.

“It’s better news than I expected to hear because of the shot that I took,” Bynum said before the Lakers played at the Knicks on Monday night.

Still, it’s hard for the Lakers to forget what happened last season, when Bynum was also supposed to be out eight to 12 weeks with a knee injury. The 7-foot, 285-pound center bruised a bone in his left knee and briefly dislocated his kneecap in mid-January.

Instead of returning in time for the playoffs, he missed the final 46 games of the season and underwent arthroscopic surgery May 21 to remove cartilage debris and smooth some rough spots on the underside of his kneecap.

Without him, the Lakers lost in the NBA Finals.

Bynum, who was carrying but not using a crutch, noted the eerie similarities between the two injuries. But he’s confident one aspect will be different: This time, he will be back when expected.

Bynum hopes his comeback occurs closer to the eight-week mark, which would give him about 10 games to prepare for the postseason. Twelve weeks would mean the playoffs already had started.

Bynum’s injury isn’t expected to require surgery, and he plans to rest for a week or two before beginning rehab.

Bynum is the Lakers’ third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder, averaging 14 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. Like last season, the injury came as he was stepping up his play. In the five games before he was hurt, he was averaging 26.2 points, 13.8 rebounds and 3.2 blocks and shooting 65.3 percent from the field.

“It’s disappointing to him because he again is starting to play like last January exceptionally well, starting to exert his influence on the games,” coach Phil Jackson said. “So that really bothers him. And it bothers us because we know that the strength of our team is the size and the defensive capabilities that we might have.”

With or without Bynum, Jackson believes the Lakers’ goal remains the same: earn homecourt advantage in the playoffs.

“I don’t see any reason why not,” he said. “This team was very successful last year without him on board and ended the season very well. I think we have enough talent to be able to do it.”

Bynum’s injury will mean more playing time for Lamar Odom, who is averaging 9.4 points and 6.2 rebounds in about 27 minutes a game.

“Without Andrew in the lineup of course we still feel really confident,” Odom said. “We still feel very confident of our ability to play at a high level. It’s too bad we have to do it without him because we love having him around.”

The 21-year-old Bynum, in his fourth NBA season, said he wasn’t worried that he might have chronic knee problems. He noted that both injuries were “freak accidents” in which he collided with another player.

“Just hopefully I can dodge my teammates,” he said jokingly.

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