TORONTO — Andrew Bynum returned to Los Angeles on Tuesday and apparently took part of the Lakers' interior defense with him.
The Toronto Raptors, last in the league in points in the paint, unleashed 44 of them Wednesday in the Lakers' closer-than-it-looked 115-107 victory.
Jermaine O'Neal had 22 points and guard Joey Graham had a career-high 24, primarily against Kobe Bryant, as the Raptors attacked almost at will against the porous Lakers, whose on-court actions amounted to a considerable "Get Well Soon" card for Bynum.
"We miss his size," Bryant said. "Offensively, we've had guys step in and make contributions. Defensively is where we're going to have to make some adjustments in terms of how we play."
Bynum will be out until at least late March because of a torn ligament in his right knee.
The Lakers didn't figure to miss him much against the undersized New York Knicks -- they didn't -- but the Raptors held a 94-93 lead near the middle of the fourth quarter.
The Lakers drove a lot as well, but not with much success. O'Neal had nine blocked shots.
If the Lakers thought the Raptors were tough, tonight's game against Boston could be next to impossible.
Celtics center Kendrick Perkins is practically immovable, and power forward Kevin Garnett needs no introduction, assuming he plays after sitting out two games because of flu-like symptoms.
Surprisingly, Perkins almost seemed sad that Bynum would not be there tonight.
"Our team was looking forward to playing against a healthy Lakers team," he told the Boston Globe. "[Bynum] is starting to be one of the elite centers in the league. He's a great challenge for me and a great challenge for the Celtics. We were looking forward to playing them with all their guys and getting a little payback."
The Lakers beat the Celtics, 92-83, on Dec. 25, shutting them down in the final few minutes and ending a summer of self-doubt in front of a keyed-up holiday crowd at Staples Center.
Bryant had 27 points, nine rebounds and five assists, and Pau Gasol missed seven of 11 shots before driving the Lakers to an 11-2 run to end the game.
He scored seven points and blocked two shots down the stretch, the first leading to a double-clutch reverse dunk at the other end by Trevor Ariza, giving the Lakers a 90-83 lead and all but ending the game.
It became the first loss in a 2-7 swoon for the Celtics, but they have since turned it around and are working on a 12-game winning streak.
The trade deadline is two weeks from today, but the Lakers aren't feeling rushed to make any deals.
"We'll talk about it and we'll try and improve the club . . . that's what you have to do if you're in this business," Coach Phil Jackson said. "But right now we have good chemistry. We know our roles. We've got a bunch of pretty good players."
Lamar Odom needed three stitches in his chin after being hit by Graham while the Raptors guard drove for a layup in the fourth quarter.