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Kobe Bryant: 'I've missed it so much'

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Kobe Bryant's wait ends Tuesday.

That's when his Los Angeles Lakers will play the Houston Rockets during both team's regular-season opener at Staples Center. That's when Bryant will play for the first time since Dec. 17, 2013, when he suffered a season-ending knee injury.

"It's step one of a long journey," Bryant said after his team's practice at their facility here Monday. "I'm excited to get back out there. I can't say I haven't missed the game. I've missed it so much."

Anything specific?

"Everything," Bryant said. "Being at practice every day, being with teammates every day, the sound of the ball, the squeak of the sneakers, the smell of the leather. Absolutely everything."

But he admitted that he might need to calm himself down a bit, too.

"It's just about finding a balance, trying to keep poised and keep calm and try not to get over the top," Bryant said.

Lakers coach Byron Scott reiterated that Bryant would play between 30-40 minutes and that he'd play even less during the second game of a back-to-back set. The Lakers face just such a scenario Wednesday when they play at Phoenix.

Bryant averaged 19 points, four assists over 26.7 minutes in six exhibition games this preseason.

"I think the rust, every day, came off a little bit more," Scott said. "The last preseason game that he played, he looked really good, as far as his fadeaway, his elevation, his stamina."

Said Bryant: "I felt the way I thought I would, which is I felt normal. I felt like I could do anything I wanted. My body, game after game, felt good, felt solid. It shouldn't be any different just because the regular season starts."

The 36-year-old Bryant knows that one game won't answer every question about where he is physically after a long layoff.

"But I think the challenge of that," he said, "that is most intriguing is continuing to ask those questions, continuing to figure those things out, because it keeps your curiosity going. It keeps the game new."

The Lakers are coming off their worst season since the franchise moved to L.A. Their 27-55 record during the 2013-14 campaign also gave them the highest single-season loss total in franchise history.

Not surprisingly, after a failed offseason attempt to land a superstar free agent, and after finishing 14th in the Western Conference, the Lakers aren't expected to reach the postseason in 2014-15.

When asked if the team was a playoff contender, Bryant said that he didn't know.

"I'd say yes," Bryant added, "but [media members] are going to debate it anyway, so what the hell does it matter?"

He said he's not even sure how competitive the team can be.

"That remains to be seen," he said. "I really like the group that I'm with, though. These guys are dogs, man. They play hard. We put our hard hats on and we go to work. We're a scrappy bunch, a physical bunch. I like this group."