- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant won't be missing any more games this season to rest his legs and swollen right knee. He plans on playing when the Lakers close the regular season with a back-to-back Tuesday against Sacramento and Wednesday against the Clippers to "sharpen up" and said "we want to win both of these games."
Bryant's shot could certainly use a little sharpening. Bryant shot just 8-for-23 on Sunday after sitting out the Lakers last two games in hopes of getting back the lift in his legs that was lacking and affecting the trajectory of his attempts. Bryant's shot total in the last three games he's played in is an alarming 21-for-70 (30 percent).
While his final line didn't reflect it, Bryant said the time off made a difference, in his limbs at least, but straddled the line when rest leads to rust.
"It feels pretty good," Bryant said. "It's a little rusty, a little stiff from not playing, not being active. I'll be fine. That's why it's important to get out there and play a little bit, loosen up the joints a little bit . . . It's OK. It feels strong."
Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who played a big part in convincing Bryant to sit out the two games in the first place, saw improvement in his guard's legs as well.
"He shot the ball poorly today but I think some of it was more shot selection," Jackson said. "It looked like at the end of the game he got into it and got in rhythm and got that energy behind his game that he has."
Jackson said he will not sit any of his players over the final two games the way he sat Bryant.
"They'll play, they won't play heavy minutes, but they'll certainly play and we'll play guys into the minutes they're accustomed to -- 30 minutes, 32 minutes hopefully at least -- so they get the work," Jackson said. "[We'll] try to keep guys out of 40-minute games."
He also provided an update on injured center Andrew Bynum, who has been out the last 11 games with a strained left Achilles' tendon.
"We had planned to have [Bynum] practice Monday if he was asymptomatic," Jackson said. "He was not, so we'll hold that off for a while."
When Bynum does eventually return, Jackson will be patient in expecting production out of him.
"I'm not so sure Andrew can step right in and take off where he left," Jackson said. "We hope so. We hope it will give our team some support and size that we need and some rebounding strength."
Pau Gasol, who has upped his scoring and rebounding averages considerably in Bynum's absence, said that his fellow 7-footer can't return soon enough.
"I think we [need him], absolutely," Gasol said. "He's a big part of our success and he's been playing really well this year, the best of his career so far and he's still got a lot of room for improvement."
Bryant and Derek Fisher combined to miss three out of four free throws with less than 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter on Sunday. First Bryant went to the line with the Lakers down by one with 6.9 seconds left and went 0-for-2, coming up short on both misses. Gasol corralled the offensive rebound on the second miss and fed the ball to Fisher, who was fouled and missed his first attempt before making the second to tie the game at 88-88 with 4.7 seconds left.
Bryant said he was "stunned" by the turn of events.
"It was the ghost of Bill Walton tugging at my shorts, that's probably a more valid explanation," Bryant said. "It's very rare. I'll shake it off. I'm not going to lose any sleep over it."
Said Fisher: "I don't know how many years you can go back and recall a situation where he's missed two free throws in a row and then for me to get an opportunity and miss a third one … Sometimes you have to laugh to keep from crying. We were kind of ripping each other a little bit for squandering that opportunity."
"Hoping" for the Lakers?
When a reporter told Fisher that an anonymous member of the Blazers said in the locker room after the game that they "hoped" they would play the Lakers in the first round of the playoffs, the Lakers captain said, "Let them keep hoping.
"Any team in the playoffs can win, so I'm not concerned with which team we're matched up against or why we shouldn't play this team versus that team," Fisher said. "I don't think there's any lottery ticket that you're going to be happy that you're matched up against a certain team."
Bryant certainly didn't make it sound like the opposite was true and the Lakers were hoping to play Portland as well.
"They play us extremely well," Bryant said, after the Blazers won the season series 2-1 with the win on Sunday. "If that happens to be our first-round matchup, we got to be on our toes."
Rather than focus on a first-round opponent, the Lakers are choosing to look in the mirror.
"We're all very concerned, very concerned," Bryant said. "We have a really tough road ahead of us, it's important that we understand that. It's not something that can be taken lightly. We know it's going to be a dog fight."
Change of scenery
Jackson can't make shots for his players, but he can choose the court where they shoot them. After the team shot just 42.5 percent from the field and 22.7 percent from deep against the Blazers, Jackson said decided to schedule a practice at the arena, instead of just using their normal practice site at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo.
"We would like to get a practice down here in Staples [Center] actually, because of the way we shot the ball today," Jackson said. "We'll try to get a practice here and we'll try to get some things done that we want to get accomplished. A lot of it is film work and about execution, defensive stances."
They said it
When asked if Gasol's final shot was a broken play or actually drawn up for the 7-footer to attempt a 3-pointer, Bryant explained that of course, it had to be a set play because, "When is the last time you have seen me set a[n] [expletive] down screen?"