He was just beginning to come into his own, when Blue Edwards went down last Wednesday against Houston with a broken nose. But just over a week later, it looks like the Jazz are still going to have a Blue Christmas. The Jazz's starting forward is back, and expected to start in Friday night's game against the Lakers.

Edwards worked out with the team Thursday at Westminster College, wearing a protective brace. In Friday night's game he will be wearing a similar brace, but instead of being black, it will be made of a clear acrylic material.The return of Edwards will probably end a three-game string of starting assignments for rookie Andy Toolson. Coach Jerry Sloan said he expects Edwards to be in the starting lineup. "He'll probably start, if he's able to play," said Sloan.

Jazz trainer Don Sparks said they are planning on Edwards being ready.

One person with no concerns about playing is Edwards, who since being hurt, has watched as the Jazz improved steadily. They have beaten Minnesota, Washington and Detroit and lost a close one at Portland. "I'm ready to play," said Edwards. "I've been coming to practice and not being able to dribble the floor. A couple of times I thought I didn't want to be around if I couldn't play. But I wanted to be there and support the team like any other fan."

Though Edwards was hurt on Nov. 28, he was back at practice the following Monday. Understandably, he was anxious to return. After a slow start on the season, he scored in double figures in his last five games, including a season high 18 against Seattle on Nov. 23. He came off the bench for six games at the start of the year, playing somewhat erratically, but after being inserted into the starting lineup, his scoring average rose from five to more than 11 points a game.

Edwards' return is good news to the Jazz, who will need all the help they can get. Friday night at the Salt Palace, they meet the Los Angeles Lakers at 7:30 p.m. The game will be aired live on Channel 13.

Although writers and broadcasters tended to write the Lakers off as a team in decline last spring, L.A. traded for Terry Teagle and picked up free agent Sam Perkins in the off-season. The Lakers are 10-5, but the record doesn't tell the whole story. Tuesday night in L.A., they rubbed out defending World Champion Detroit, 114-90. On Thursday they beat Minnesota, 83-73. The Lakers have won eight straight and nine of their last ten games.

"When they got those two players (Teagle and Perkins), I thought they were then the team to beat," said Sloan. "And after watching them play Detroit on TV the other night, I thought they were as good a Laker team as I've ever seen. They did everything."

Although the Lakers aren't as high profile as they were a couple of years ago - they've sold out only one game this season - they aren't exactly in the poorhouse when it comes to talent. Forward James Worthy is among the top 15 scorers in the league, averaging 24 points a game. Magic Johnson leads the league in assists (14.0) and is fifth in free throw percentage. Perkins is third in three-point shooting (60 percent).

NOTES: Utah and the Lakers split their four games last year, with both teams winning once at home and once on the road . . . The Lakers own a 54-18 lead in the series.