- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- With exactly two weeks remaining until the start of the NBA regular season, the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers still have a lot of work to do.
So much so that head coach Phil Jackson said Tuesday he hasn't thought about the curtain coming up against the Houston Rockets on Oct. 26.
"We're aware of it, but it's out there at some distance," Jackson said. "I think next weekend, at 10 days or so, I'll be ready to think about it."
Jackson's thoughts about star player Kobe Bryant's right knee were put somewhat at ease after the 15-year veteran joined the team midway through practice and impressed after going through full shooting and weight workouts on his own in the morning before the team's session started.
"I think he looked OK, actually," Jackson said. "He had gone through a full regimen before he took the floor so I think that affected him a little bit, but I think he looked better than he's looked so far."
Bryant shot 2-for-18 while playing 31 total minutes in the Lakers' 0-2 start to the preseason in Europe last week. Jackson said Monday that he would limit Bryant to 16-18 minutes in the Lakers' third preseason game Wednesday against the Sacramento Kings in Las Vegas, but softened on that stance after seeing Bryant play on Tuesday.
"I'm going to play him eight-minute segments, probably first and second half," Jackson said. "If he feels up to it and he comes to me and talks to me about it, I'll see what it looks like at the end of the game."
Luke Walton also navigated through practice with an injury. Walton participated in a variety of shooting drills as he mounts a comeback from a strained right hamstring. "He's still a couple days away," Jackson said, in essence scratching Walton from the lineup for Wednesday's game. "But, it's better than what we thought would happen by far."
Much like Jackson liked what he saw out of his injured players, Pau Gasol thinks the rest of the team is starting to shake its European hangover.
"I think we're getting back into that sync that we're looking for," Gasol said. "It's been good. We're playing a lot more. We're going up and down a lot more. We're working on details that we need to work on a lot more. [We're] just working better, basically, than we had in the last two weeks so it's been productive. I think we're going to see some differences by our performances, too."
Even if the differences aren't drastic, Jackson won't put much weight on the outcome of the Sacramento game, just as the team shrugged off losses to the Minnesota Timberwolves and FC Barcelona.
"I'm not at any point looking for anything significant out of [Wednesday's] ballgame, I just want to check and see how we're doing conditioning-wise, our quickness, our anticipation -- those are the things you look for just to see if your guys are on their game," Jackson said.
When evaluating the team, Jackson isn't even ready to use players' performances to judge how much playing time they'll receive when the regular season begins.
"We're not really into that level yet," Jackson said. "We're not really looking right now at a rotation to be set or anything like that; we're still kind of just figuring out the personnel."
One of the players whose role could fluctuate immensely is newcomer Matt Barnes. Barnes was signed on to be a backup for Ron Artest at small forward but has played some at the 2 and 4 spots as well during training camp.
"He's certainly going to be a guy that we look at for his defensive intensity, to help us out," Jackson said. "We anticipate that his quickness and his ability to play defense is going to help out our second unit, but he's also going to be needed at times playing in the first line."
Barnes has fit right in on defense and looks forward to the chance when he, Bryant and Artest see time on the floor together guarding the perimeter, a lineup Barnes said is "going to be a problem" for L.A.'s opponents.
Right now the problem Barnes faces is getting up to speed with the tricky triangle offense.
"The offense is coming," Barnes said. "I just need to learn the counters. Everyone here is so accustomed to the offense and when they make a certain move that's not really drawn up, I have kind of a problem recognizing that. I just think it's going to come with some time."
The eight-year veteran settling into the seventh team of his career said he has tried to heighten his understanding of the offense by "just asking questions and talking."
One conversation he has not needed to have is with Lamar Odom. Odom and Barnes exchanged barbs through the media after the Magic beat the Lakers in March, but have not addressed the issue since Barnes signed with the Lakers in July.
"We're no longer enemies, so it would make no sense to [talk about it]," Odom said. "I respect him. He played against us hard; now he's on our team. I'm pretty sure Kobe and Ron didn't talk about the incident that they had [in the 2009 playoffs]. He's on our team, so I have nothing but love for him."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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