By Spike Eskin

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – After a few several many false alarms, it appears as if Andrew Bynum is set to actually play basketball for the Sixers, and pretty soon.

Bynum dunked at practice on Tuesday, something he hadn’t done, even in practice, since the Sixers traded for him in July. He ran sprints on Monday, also  a first for Bynum, who has been keeping his cardiovascular conditioning up on an elliptical machine and more recently, a gravity-reducing treadmill, which allows Bynum to train without the pounding of running.

“[We’re taking] baby steps,” said Bynum Monday, via Max Rappaport with (see video of Bynum’s workout at this location). “Still no [lateral] slides, but I dunked yesterday. I was happy to know I could still do that, which is good. [We’re] just taking it really, really slowly.”

The dunking and sprinting is new, but taking it slowly certainly isn’t. Bynum’s recovery has been hindered by bone bruises, arthritis, and cartilage loss (and bowling) until this point, so it’s natural to be waiting for the other shoe to drop with Bynum’s recent progress.

It’s nothing more than a feeling, but I think it’s safe to say this time, barring disaster, is for real.

KYW’s Matt Leon talks with’s Tom Moore about Bynum and the Sixers matchup with the Wizards:

“I think right after the All-Star break, in my mind,” Bynum said of his return. The NBA All-Star break begins on February 14th, and lasts through the 19th. The last two games before the break are at home against the Clippers on the 11th, and at Milwaukee against the Bucks on the 13th. The first game after the break is the 20th in Minnesota against the Timberwolves. The first Sixers home game after the break, February 23rd against the Miami Heat, would have an extra level of excitement if it includes Bynum in his first home game.

“I’m a little bit further ahead [of schedule], I honestly believe that. Earlier, before I started getting better, I thought I’d have to play through a lot of pain, but the pain is subsiding a bit, which is good,” Bynum said.

We’ll never know exactly what’s gone on in Bynum, or the Sixers organization’s mind during the process, but relief has to be among the feelings both are experiencing right now.

It’s hard not to wonder if Bynum wasn’t treating this season like a sprint, and an audition for an contract, rather than a marathon, with his best chance at a big free agent contract coming after this season. It’s also hard to imagine that the Sixers will even care if that was the case, if he comes back and is as effective as they’re hoping.

Repeatedly, the Sixers have stated that Bynum would play when he felt up to it. It seems like he’s up to it. The only question now, is if he can make the kind of difference that many have speculated he can.

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