Kobe Bryant, knee 'feel good'
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- It was tough to decide what the most stunning sight was after the Los Angeles Lakers' practice Thursday.
Considering Kobe Bryant said just more than a week ago his surgically repaired right knee was only 60 percent recovered, it was noteworthy to see him working up a full sweat as one of the last players on the court going through shooting drills without wearing a protective sleeve on the knee.
Then again, as rare as a sight as it has been to see Bryant in full practice mode this season, it's not every day you see former Laker Rick Fox in the building with his "Dancing with the Stars" partner Cheryl Burke filming a segment for the hit ABC show.
Just another day in Laker Land.
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"I feel good," Bryant said after finishing a workout with assistant coach Chuck Person. "[My knee's] continuing to get stronger."
Bryant normally schedules the workout with Person three to four hours before practice, but he delayed it Thursday so he could have his full energy for the team's intrasquad scrimmage.
Bryant played 19 minutes in the Lakers' 98-95 win over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday but shot just 2-for-10 from the field, pushing his preseason shooting total to just 4-for-28 in three games.
"He's alright," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "He's playing without being quite ready. He's trying to get some of it in game situations rather than having an ability to practice and do all the things to build up to where he's going to be in rhythm and shooting the ball right. He's taking a little bit of a shortcut."
Bryant reported no pain in the knee and said he was approaching "regular preseason form," but added he would heed the same playing time limits that have already been established as the Lakers face a flurry of upcoming games.
"I hardly ever play in the preseason anyway, so I'll just be doing what we normally would do," Bryant said.
He's right. For all the attention that has surrounded him playing just 16.7 minutes per game through the Lakers 1-2 preseason start, the playing-time numbers match up with what Bryant has done in the past. In the last three years, Bryant has averaged 37.9 minutes during the regular season and just 22.5 minutes during the preseason.
Starting on Saturday against the Denver Nuggets, the Lakers play five preseason games in seven days in four different cities, as the team will travel to Anaheim, San Diego and Ontario next week after two games Saturday and Sunday at Staples Center.
Jackson said he planned to use the consecutive games to test his starters' conditioning, playing them more than he usually would in a preseason setting. He has plucked Pau Gasol from the bench and inserted him into the lineup late in the game in each of the Lakers' three preseason games thus far to prepare Gasol to carry the load when the season starts, and Bryant is still rounding into shape.
Jackson was discouraged by the recent play of his bench, citing "inexperience" and "conditioning" as the reasons Los Angeles allowed Sacramento to score 36 points in the fourth quarter after holding the Kings to 59 points through the first three.
The letdown carried over to practice.
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"We had a situation today where [the reserves] needed to get a stop to get the ball back and play [offense]," Jackson said. "The starters got 10 straight possessions, so [the second team] wasn't able to pull together in an area of defense so they could make the stops so they could even play offense."
The struggles of the bench Thursday were personified by Sasha Vujacic, who was diagnosed with a concussion after being struck in the face, just below the left eye, by an inadvertent elbow from Lamar Odom. He will be re-evaluated Friday and is out indefinitely.
Jackson reserved praise for one substitute, however.
"Steve [Blake] specifically is a guy that we know has to give Derek [Fisher] the relief that a guy his age has to have over the course of a season," Jackson said. "You can't play 36-minute games at Derek's age and not get worn out over the course of an 82-game season."
Blake is also expected to help L.A. from long distance. The Lakers were tied for 23rd in team 3-point percentage last season (34.1) and were 13th in 3-pointers made (532).
"There are opportunities there, especially once you start to get minutes with Pau and Kobe who draw double teams, those 3-pointers will present themselves a lot more," said Blake, who shot 39.5 percent from 3-point range last season, splitting time between Portland and the Clippers. "The offense definitely can get you some wide-open looks."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.