Matt Barnes likely to play Friday
"We got a game now!" exclaimed Lakers assistant coach Frank Hamblen from the sidelines.
The Lakers are hoping that Barnes can be a game-changer as they enter into the final 20-game stretch of the regular-season schedule.
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Barnes participated in a full practice without the aid of a brace on his surgically repaired right knee Thursday. He is expected to play Friday against the Charlotte Bobcats for the first time since Jan. 7 when he suffered a slight tear of his meniscus against the New Orleans Hornets.
"I'm looking forward to him playing Friday, but we'll see," said Lakers head coach Phil Jackson. "I'm going to hold back and make a positive declaration about that tomorrow.
"Matt was all right today. We'll obviously check to see how he reacts tomorrow and overnight and we'll make a decision on this, but right now, he's looking pretty good."
The Lakers went 17-8 in the 25 games that Barnes has missed, but were a pedestrian 12-8 before their current five-game winning streak coming out of the All-Star break.
Barnes, who averaged 7.4 points on 47.4 percent shooting and 4.8 rebounds per game through the Lakers' 26-11 start to the season, said he feels like he is 90 percent back to where he was in early January and just needs to work on his timing and conditioning on the court.
"I feel good," Barnes said. "I definitely just need games to get the rhythm back and just getting out there, getting contact and really seeing how the knee is, but it feels good."
Barnes, who averaged 20.8 minutes per game playing primarily as Ron Artest's backup at small forward, spent his time on the sidelines studying the shooting guard position in the triangle offense in hopes of expanding his role to spell Kobe Bryant at times.
"I really did a lot of work watching the guard position," Barnes said. "It's a big difference watching it and actually performing it, so I've had a little bit of practice the last few days playing at the guard position and that's just going to come with more time."
Bryant recognizes Barnes' value to the team, no matter what position the eight-year veteran is playing.
"Spacing, loose balls, offensive rebounds and just overall defense," Bryant described as what Barnes brings to the team.
The team initially announced Barnes would miss approximately eight weeks. If Barnes plays Friday, he will have missed about seven weeks of game time since his Jan. 11 surgery.
His comeback has not come soon enough for Barnes, as the 6-foot-7 UCLA product has taken to text messaging Jackson to lobby his case to return.
"We were text messaging back and forth [Wednesday] night about it," Barnes said. "You know me; I'm trying to get out there.
"It was a very broad, very open [text message]: 'What are my chances?'"
Jackson, who said earlier in the season that Barnes is the first player in his coaching career that he's had this level of a text message relationship with, said he will consult with Barnes at Friday's shootaround to determine if he will play or not.
"I got a lot of built-up energy," Barnes said. "I'm ready. I'm ready to go."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.