Kobe Bryant's knee still healing
LONDON -- The Lakers traveled halfway across the world to officially open their three-peat bid with a haphazard 111-92 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves in Los Angeles' first exhibition game of the season, and suddenly it seems Kobe Bryant's surgically repaired right knee might be a world away from being fully healed.
"I'm probably about 60 percent," Bryant said.
Bryant's knee was operated on in late July for the third time since 2003. He had to have the knee drained in between Games 4 and 5 of L.A.'s first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder last spring. After the Lakers beat the Celtics to capture the championship in Game 7 of the NBA Finals, Bryant claimed that removing the excess fluid in the knee improved his health for the rest of the postseason.
"I drained my knee, and all of a sudden reeling off 30-point games like they're 10-point games and everybody said how young I looked," Bryant said. "I was hurt."
After Monday's loss, Bryant revealed just how hurt he was, even after having the knee drained.
"During the NBA Finals, it was extremely, extremely, extremely painful," Bryant said. "Now, not so much."
Lakers coach Phil Jackson told the Los Angeles Times over the weekend that he expects it to take the first two weeks of the regular season for the knee to continue to strengthen before Bryant is back in top form.
Bryant wore a yellow protective sleeve over the knee and played only six minutes against Minnesota, missing his three shots to finish with zero points, two assists, one steal and one rebound after checking out for good midway through the first quarter.
Jackson said he had originally planned to play Bryant for an additional 6-8 minutes to start the second half, but Bryant decided to "ice down" at halftime.
"A lot of people were calling for Kobe to go back in the ballgame," Jackson said. "We had plans to hopefully play him two segments, but one was enough."
The pro-Lakers sellout crowd of 18,689 inundated O2 Arena with cheers of "Ko-be! Ko-be!" in the second half, tempting Bryant to abandon his plan and go back in the game.
"I wanted to get up [off the bench] and get in, but ... the shoes were unlaced, ice on the knees, knees were frozen and at that point I couldn't get back in," Bryant said. "But it felt good to still get out there and play and run around a little bit."
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Jackson quipped that he probably should have informed the P.A. announcer that Bryant would not be returning to the game when the team came back after halftime, so the announcer could assuage the crowd's expectations.
Had the game been played in the U.S., Bryant most certainly would have taken the night off completely. The Lakers have had 10 practice sessions since the start of training camp a little more than a week ago and Bryant has played in full-court contact drills in only two of them.
"It's really the only reason why I played," Bryant said of the international fans' presence. "I didn't need to measure and see where my strength was at. I pretty much knew from the practice that I had a couple days prior. I just felt like I had a sense of responsibility to get out there and play. We fly all the way out here and fans come out here to watch the game and I had a responsibility to go out there and play a little bit.
"It's all about spreading the message about the sport, about the game. I'm very thankful for it because I grew up under the influence of the NBA coming overseas so I'm a product of that, and I think it's very important to continue to spread the word about the game of basketball as much as we can."
The Lakers finish their Europe Live trip with an exhibition game against Pau Gasol's former team, FC Barcelona, in Spain on Thursday, and Bryant says he does not intend to push the knee in that game either.
"Minimum," Bryant said. "It will be the same thing -- minimum."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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