LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant will play Sunday against the Portland Trail Blazers after missing the Los Angeles Lakers last two games to rest his legs and alleviate swelling in his surgically-repaired right knee, coach Phil Jackson told reporters before the game.
A Lakers loss could shift the tightly packed playoff race between the Trail Blazers, Spurs and Thunder to determine the sixth, seventh and eighth spots in the Western Conference. But Jackson said Bryant's return against Portland was not about the Lakers trying to defeat a potential first-round playoff opponent.
"It's simply about getting Kobe back and play him and give our best performance. I think that's what the standard of the league is," Jackson said. "These teams have to earn what they're going to get. So you go out and play the best game you can and let the chips fall where they may and you figure out who Portland, San Antonio and Oklahoma City will play."
The Lakers went 1-1 in Bryant's absence, but Jackson said the former league MVP was impressed by the team's performance in Denver on Thursday without him, a 98-96 loss.
"I think he's pleasantly pleased with how the team plays without him on the floor," Jackson said. "He was there at the door of the locker room with Andrew [Bynum] after the loss in Denver to congratulate the guys in their effort, not in the fact that they didn't win, but he said words to the effect of, 'If you play like that, we're going to win the championship.'"
Jackson did not rule out the possibility of Bryant sitting out one or both of the Lakers' final two games of the regular season -- Tuesday against Sacramento and Wednesday against the Clippers -- to get more rest for his legs before the start of the postseason.
"We want to see how everything goes from here on out," Jackson said. "We're up for whatever works for us."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.