NEW YORK — The results of Andrew Bynum's MRI exam became a long, winding road that ended in a medical cul de sac.
The extent of the damage to his sprained right knee will not be known until today, the Lakers unable to get past an unusual version of planes, trains and automobiles when independent knee specialist David Altchek did not return in time from a trip to Florida to read the results by nightfall Sunday.
Bynum underwent the exam Sunday morning without Altchek in attendance at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, the same place Altchek performed season-ending surgery on Bynum's other knee last May.
Results are expected today, as well as a timetable for Bynum's return, long before the Lakers take the court tonight against the New York Knicks.
"We're all just on pins and needles waiting," said Bynum's agent, David Lee. "We're all walking on eggshells."
It was a puzzling day, one in which the Lakers arrived for a light midafternoon practice at a Manhattan sports club without really knowing what to say about Bynum, who left Saturday's game against Memphis after Kobe Bryant crashed into his knee near the midpoint of the first quarter.
"Hopefully everything will be OK," Bryant said. "We haven't heard the results from the MRI yet, but we're optimistic about it."
Lakers doctors were also unable to look at the MRI results because of unspecified technological differences between their computers and those used at the hospital.
Bynum was unavailable for interviews with reporters, though Bryant said he would dine with the 21-year-old at a restaurant later Sunday night, an indication that Bynum wasn't gloomily sitting around a hotel room as he awaited his near future.
"I'm making sure he has special accommodations to get there with us and watch the [Super Bowl] with us," said Bryant, who arranged for private transportation for Bynum.
Meanwhile, the Lakers pondered life without their 7-footer, who could be out for several weeks, if not longer.
The timing wasn't the greatest, with Bynum averaging 26.2 points, 14 rebounds and 3.2 blocked shots in his last five games before Saturday.
The Lakers will try to make do for Bynum's absence by sliding Pau Gasol over from power forward to center and moving Lamar Odom into the starting lineup at power forward. (It might not happen against the undersized Knicks, but it will be their standard setup after that.)
If any luck can be plucked from such an injury, the Lakers can point to a relatively comfortable five-game lead over San Antonio in the Western Conference standings.
On the other hand, assuming Bynum is out for a long duration, it won't be easy for them to keep pace with Boston (40-9), Cleveland (37-9) and Orlando (36-10) for the league's top record, which could have obvious implications if the Lakers (37-9) make it back to the NBA Finals.
The Lakers' schedule won't offer many breaks, either.
Twelve of their next 20 games are against teams with winning records, including Boston on Thursday and Cleveland on Sunday.
Thirteen of their next 19 games are on the road.
The Lakers became used to playing without Bynum last season, Bryant taking his game to another level on the way to his first most-valuable-player award and Gasol making an immediate impact after being acquired last February.
"We'll do the same thing we did last year," Bryant said.
More responsibility clearly falls on Odom, whose statistics are down across the board because of a reduced role this season. He is averaging 9.4 points and 6.2 rebounds after averaging 14.2 points and 10.6 rebounds last season as a starter.
Odom accepted the promotion back to the starting lineup, be it tonight against New York or Wednesday against Toronto.
"Whatever [Coach Phil Jackson] does, I'll be ready for it, whatever the case may be," Odom said.
Gasol, recently selected to his second All-Star game, will also have to increase his productivity.
Before Saturday's game, Jackson complimented him for being a "silent leader."
"His presence is very eminent on this team," Jackson said.
Bynum's injury ricocheted around the league, even drawing sympathy from . . . the Celtics?
"I want him to be healthy. I want them all to be healthy," Boston Coach Doc Rivers said. "He's a young kid, but he's had a tough go over the last year. I'm hoping he's OK."
Bynum doesn't receive enough credit, in Rivers' mind.
"His size is absolutely a factor," Rivers told the Boston Globe. "I go back to that game where we played them early in the year and we didn't play well. We got to the basket a lot, but we missed all the layups. Live, I was frustrated because I thought we were missing layups and we were pressing.
"But then when you watch the video, he makes you change your shot. We had three or four of them where we were right there and we double-clutched for no reason -- other than the fact to the left of your eye he was coming. And that's what size does. Size makes you miss layups. He's done that and he also gives you a low-post scorer with Gasol. And that's made them pretty darn good."
Last season, Bynum injured his left knee in mid-January, also against Memphis, after coming down on Odom's foot while reaching back for a rebound. A few months later, Altchek performed a 30-minute procedure that consisted of removing cartilage debris and smoothing rough spots on the underside of Bynum's left kneecap. Bynum missed 67 games because of the injury.
LAKERS AT NEW YORK
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latimes.com/sports throughout the day for updates on Bynum.