- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Kobe Bryant returned to the practice court Saturday, undertaking individual sprinting, shooting and non-contact footwork drills while the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers underwent a "light practice," according to coach Mike D'Antoni.
It was an encouraging sign for Bryant, who used Thursday and Friday for rest and treatment following three practice sessions in five days in his initial foray back into the mix after sitting out close to seven months while he rehabbed from Achilles surgery in his left leg.
Bryant is all but ruled out for Sunday's game against the Sacramento Kings, begging the question as to whether he will potentially make his return during the Lakers' three-game road trip through Washington, Brooklyn and Detroit next week.
"I’ve learned not to anticipate one way or the other," D'Antoni said when asked if Bryant could play on the trip. "I would think it’s hard, very hard for him to be able to do that."
It may also prove hard for Bryant to work in practice time on the road if he indeed is not yet ready to return to game action. The Lakers do not have another practice scheduled after Saturday until Tuesday, Dec. 3 when they're back in L.A.
"When we’re on the road, we’ll have shootarounds and then he will play 3-on-3, 2-on-2," D'Antoni said, expressing that the gap in practices shouldn't deter Bryant from ramping up towards a return. "He’ll get out there. But again, it’s a process. I don’t think it’s going to happen overnight, so we’ll just have to kind of see."
D'Antoni, who clarified once again that Bryant was dealing with "general soreness" the last several days and not any specific pain associated with his Achilles, said he and the five-time champion have yet to circle any potential return dates together.
"Not yet," D'Antoni said. "I think we look at the calendar – you’ll get a good practice here, you need to amp it up here yourself and all that. But how he responds to that is when he’ll be able to play, so we don’t know how that will be."
Lakers co-captain Pau Gasol, coming off his best game of the season with 24 points and 10 rebounds in a win against Golden State, said the team has to continue to rely on what it has without Bryant.
"I try not to think about it," Gasol said of getting Bryant back. "I think when it happens it’s going to be great for everyone, but until that happens, we just got to continue to do what we’ve been doing lately. We can’t really anticipate too much or stress about it. He’s going to come back when he’s going to come back, and whenever that is we’ll be happy and excited, but at the same time we just got to continue to play with the intensity and the focus that we have been playing the last couple games so we can continue to move up."
L.A. has won its last two games, accounting for its first winning streak of the season through 13 games. Still, even with it taking so long to string together victories, the Lakers are 6-7, or 1.5 games behind Minnesota, which currently occupies the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
How have the Lakers fared in Bryant's absence so far?
"I don’t know if it’s better than people expected or worse, the same, I don’t know," Gasol said. "I think we’ve got some really good games, really good efforts. We won against better teams, supposedly. We just got to continue to get hungrier, stay hungry and now just build a winning streak. Sneak up on people and all of the sudden, we’re over .500 and we’re looking good, we’re feeling good about ourselves and then Kobe comes back and we’re in a good position."
Gasol said there is "no sense of urgency or desperation" for Bryant to rush back, but D'Antoni has already allowed himself to envision what the 15-time All-Star can bring to the team once he's back in the lineup.
"Kobe is going to add an element that we don’t have," D'Antoni said. "It’s going to add somebody to take over games and take over fourth quarters and create opportunities for everybody else because the concentration is going to be on him. Now, having said that, he’ll fit in with what we’re doing and running and moving the ball and all that. Which he will. So it’s going to be a positive whenever he gets to come back."
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