The Lakers returned home in the wee hours of Thursday morning weary from a seven-game, 13-day excursion, still comfortable with their record and excited about the good news from their injured center Andrew Bynum.
While most of the Lakers took Thursday off, enough were around to play three-on-three with Bynum, which was another step in his goal to play in a game before the regular season is over.
Bynum has missed 29 games recovering from a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee, but he had been training and playing with free agents when the Lakers were on the road. Bynum said he was hopeful that he could play in the last two regular-season games, projecting the Memphis game April 12 at Staples Center as his first one.
"I can't project," Coach Phil Jackson said Thursday, "but there is a chance that he could play in a game before the season is over."
Jackson watched Bynum play three-on-three and noted some progress.
"He's got some hop in his legs," Jackson said. "He looked to block shots -- those type of things that you look for, reactive things and recovery things, both going up quickly and not thinking about it and coming down and containing his body balance and his strength.
"His timing is going to be a little bit off. That's going to be normal. . . . DJ [Mbenga] ate him up today, but that's not unusual. DJ is right in the heart of things."
Bynum averaged 17.9 points on 58.8% shooting, 8.3 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in 31.4 minutes in 15 games in January before he was injured.
The Lakers play the Houston Rockets tonight at home.
Bynum will do more at practice Saturday, but as far as playing in five-on-five competition, Jackson said that might be "delayed" until next week.
Bynum's conditioning remains an issue, but it's not something that concerned Jackson. "This is more about strength and that injury to that knee and the strength of that knee coming back," Jackson said.
After the Lakers beat Milwaukee on Wednesday to end their trip, Bynum's teammates had some common goals for the rest of the season.
"Get some momentum for the playoffs and get some practice time hopefully with Andrew," forward Lamar Odom said.
Or, as Kobe Bryant said: "Go back home, see how Drew's feeling and go from there."
To a man, the Lakers seemed excited by the prospect of Bynum's return, particularly Pau Gasol, who has logged heavy minutes since sliding over from power forward to center in place of Bynum.
"I look forward to seeing how healthy he is and seeing him out there again," Gasol said. "Obviously, he's a big piece of our future, our present even. In the playoffs, I think he's going to have a big impact, so we want to get him healthy, we want to get him playing out there."
As for the trip, the Lakers seemed pleased overall.
Although the Lakers failed to score 100 points in two consecutive games during their trip for the first time since November, they rebounded from losses in Atlanta and Charlotte with a 104-98 victory at Milwaukee to finish 5-2 on their longest trip this late in the season in team history.
"I think every team in the NBA on a seven-game road trip would take 5-2," Odom said. "Those two that got away from us, we felt like we could have won them."
Said Bryant: "We did well. We're happy with it. We'll take it."
The Lakers are now two games behind the Cleveland Cavaliers for the best record in the NBA. They are 2 1/2 ahead of Boston and 3 1/2 ahead of Orlando.
Jackson was asked if the Lakers had a chance to overtake Cleveland for the best record, would he play Bryant and Gasol 35 minutes or more in a game?
"Yeah," Jackson said quickly.