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Longer practice this week has benefitted Andrew Bynum well

December 25, 2010 |  8:33 am

If it were up to Lakers center Andrew Bynum, he wouldn't be playing today against the Miami Heat.

"I hate playing on Christmas Day," he said after practice Friday at the Lakers' facility in El Segundo. "But it's something we have to do."

If it were also up to Bynum, he wouldn't return to the starting lineup until a month-and-a-half from now, with both him and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson arguing he still needs to improve the timing and execution of the second jump that happens after grabbing a rebound and following with a dunk.

"That's really Phil's decision," Bynum said of Jackson, who countered his return to the starting lineup could come as early as two weeks from now.

But Bynum perfectly understands the magnitude of today's game against the Heat. Overlook the hype of it, considering this by no means will determine how the two teams might square up in the NBA Finals. Overlook for a brief moment the importance of this game as the Lakers enter a tougher schedule, including a game next week against Western Conference leader San Antonio. Today's matchup caps off a week that entailed two quality practices for Bynum without any reported pain in his right knee, one involving an extended two-hour session with the entire team Thursday and what Jackson described as a "modified shoot around" on Christmas Eve.

"I think it's gone well for him," Jackson said.

"We need those," Bynum said. "That's good to play when it comes game time. everybody is out there going, playing hard and playing together."

Bynum's contributions in five games since his return from rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee appear modest, averaging seven points on 41% shooting in only 16.6 minutes per game. But he's already shown why he'll be a significant piece to the team's identity. It's improved Pau Gasol's efficiency, allowing him to maintain his 19 points per game average in 34.6 minutes, a clear drop off from the 38.5 minutes per contest he's averaged this season. It's lifted the team's bench, including their instrumental role in securing a 120-110 win Sunday over Toronto. And the team's 94.4 points per game allowed since Bynum's return showed his presence has sharped sharpened defensive rotations, considering the Lakers normally allowed 97.86 points per contest.

It's also not lost on Jackson that Bynum's presence gives the Lakers a clear size advantage against Miami, which lacks a definitive center.

"I think our big line up could" prove to be the difference, Jackson said.

So even if Bynum would rather spend Christmas with his family, he's willing to clock in so he can make more progress.

Said Bynum: "I still got work to do."

--Mark Medina

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