He's not exactly healthy -- asked what causes pain for his sprained right ankle, he replied "Moving." -- but Matt Barnes will play Sunday when the Lakers and Nuggets open up their first round series at Staples Center.
Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway), this is spectacularly good news for the Lakers.
Already down Metta World Peace to suspension, facing Denver's depth and versatility the Lakers could ill afford to lose Barnes, leaving Devin Ebanks as the only available small forward not named Christian Eyenga. Now they have to hope Barnes, so reliant on energy and activity, can press through the pain and play his game, something he wasn't fully able to do last spring while fighting a knee injury. If he can't cut hard, move out on the break, or aggressively crash the glass, Barnes isn't nearly as effective. This is before we talk about the defensive side of the ball.
Coach Mike Brown still plans to start Ebanks, a smart choice allowing him to maintain continuity with the rest of his rotation, but Barnes is slated for heavy minutes. One of the more interesting things to watch over the course of the series will be the effectiveness of both on the offensive glass. Both Ebanks and Barnes posted offensive rebound rates near the top of the league among small forwards.
It doesn't serve the Lakers for them to be timid, but awareness will be key (with the 3's and the team as a whole). Well executed, aggressive work on the offensive glass will force the Nuggets to stick around the defensive end a little longer, taking some starch out of their transition game. On the other hand, mistakes will fuel Denver's attack.
"You've just got to pick and choose," Barnes said Saturday after practice. "We watched a lot of film on what we've done this year, what's been effective, and there are still times to go to the glass with them. You just have to pick and choose, because [Ty] Lawson's a one-man break, and Andre Miller likes to get the ball out and throw it ahead. So I've just got to be smart about when I crash."
Brown made it clear he doesn't want either to feel limited, but also emphasized judgment. A miscue here and there can be tolerated, but should either string a couple together Brown won't be shy about making substitutions.
Click below for more video from Saturday's practice, including Kobe Bryant, Ramon Sessions, Andrew Bynum, and Ebanks.
Kobe Bryant, on opening the postseason:
Devin Ebanks on starting his first postseason game, matching up against Denver:
Ramon Sessions on making his postseason debut, for the Lakers and in his career:
Sessions on his shoulder and hometown of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina now being a Lakers town:
Andrew Bynum on the upcoming playoffs, and the expectations for himself and the Lakers: