If it were up to Los Angeles Lakers forward Matt Barnes, he would be in uniform either Sunday in Oklahoma City or Tuesday in Minnesota. Unfortunately, it may not be his call, as coach Phil Jackson was reluctant to second the reserve's timeline.
The small forward, who has missed 22 games since undergoing surgery to repair a torn lateral meniscus in his right knee, said he was moving around "fine" during Thursday's practice and reported no pain or swelling after participating in a three-on-three scrimmage. Asked if Sunday or Tuesday was his target date, Barnes responded, "Yeah. I think so. One of the two."
His coach, however, felt that might be a little optimistic.
"I appreciated his intensity in wanting to come back," Jackson said. "But I'm watching Matt and I'll talk to him [Friday] about it. I haven't really talked to him about that. I hate to say anything, but we're still saying let's be patient. We're not in dire need now.
"We haven't had a lot of practice time to [gauge] his performance level. Today was, obviously an overtime game [the previous night against Portland] and 2:30 in the morning getting back. He needs to have a practice with the team and a full-fledged activity."
Barnes hopes to get in another practice Saturday before the Lakers leave for Oklahoma City. In part to perhaps reassure his coach about his readiness, but also help eliminate the "rust" experienced since returning to practice last Monday.
"Just shooting the ball, playing under pressure and that kind of stuff," said Barnes of the kinks in need of ironing out. "You can't really simulate that in workouts. Even three-on-three, you can't really simulate it. But I still feel [rust], just coming off the dribble, shooting the ball, coming off the pick and roll shooting the ball. Stuff like that."
Barnes, averaging 7.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game, has been sorely missed as a critical member of the Lakers' second unit and a backup to Ron Artest, who's battled inconsistency all season long. From Barnes' perspective, however, his absence has been far more painful for himself than for his team.
"I think I need to be out there more than they need me out there," Barnes said with a laugh. "It's been a while, man. We started out the last homestretch well. I just want to get back in and do any little part I can to help the team win."
Andy Kamenetzky is a regular contributor to ESPNLosAngeles.com.