Kobe Bryant eyes Friday return

Updated: April 19, 2012, 5:38 PM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant performed well in a series of on-court physical tests Wednesday before the Lakers' game against the Golden State Warriors but missed his seventh straight game with a left shin injury.

Bryant
Bryant

"He's not completely right," Lakers coach Mike Brown said before the game. "Just because a guy can run and jump a little bit, and shoot, that doesn't mean that there's a comfort level from everybody to put him out there."

Bryant told ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher during ESPN's Lakers-Warriors telecast that he'll "probably be on the floor next game," which is Friday against the San Antonio Spurs.

Bryant confirmed his intention to play on Friday after the Lakers' 99-87 win over the Warriors. When asked if he would play against San Antonio, Bryant said, "Why not? … I'm good."

Bryant added that he did not expect to have any limitations when he resumes play. Brown said he was not worried about integrating Bryant back in the lineup with just more than a week remaining in the regular season.

"I don't think there's anything that's going to be difficult about getting him back into the mix or in the flow," Brown said. "I think our guys are looking forward to it and so is he."

Lakers co-captain Pau Gasol said that there has been plenty of time to talk over strategy with Bryant during his nearly two-week-long layoff.

"He agrees that I have to get to the post a little more," Gasol said after registering his fifth career triple-double against the Warriors with 22 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. "… He's seen that and he's emphasized that, and if I don't take it, he'll take it. So, it's up to me.

"I think it gave him a chance to also see how the team did without him. Things that worked. Things that don't. And how can he take us to the next level or a higher level with his play."

Bryant went through a full pregame workout with Lakers player development coach Phil Handy more than three hours before tipoff, combining shooting drills, one-on-one play and wind sprints, all without the aid of a wrap or brace on his left shin.

Lakers trainers will wait 24 hours to see how Bryant's body responds to the test on Thursday before making a determination of whether he'll be cleared to return.

It is clear, however, that Bryant is continuing to improve from the tenosynovitis injury to his left shin that has sidelined him since April 7.

"It's a day-by-day thing," Brown said. "Like I've said before, he's getting better. He's made progress. We like where he is right now."

Bryant told ESPN/ABC sideline reporter Heather Cox during the Lakers' 112-108 overtime win over the Dallas Mavericks last weekend that he will "definitely be back well before the playoffs."

The Lakers have three regular-season games remaining after Wednesday -- Friday in San Antonio, Sunday at home against Oklahoma City and next Thursday in Sacramento.

Brown said there was "a chance" Bryant plays Friday in San Antonio in a rubber match of sorts against the Spurs after the Lakers won 98-84 on April 11 and the Spurs won 112-91 on Monday, dropping L.A.'s record to 4-2 without Bryant.

"There's definitely a chance on Friday," Brown said. "Obviously, there is even a better chance on Sunday."

Metta World Peace, who scored in double figures in six of the seven games Bryant has missed, said the team can't wait to have the league's leading scorer back.

"He makes us better," World Peace said. "I can't wait to get Kobe back. I just can't wait. I'm so happy to have Kobe back, if he comes back Friday. We'll get him back in shape. I came here to play with Kobe. I know what type of player Kobe is and I wanted to win some rings. That's why I came to L.A. I can't wait until Kobe is back."

Brown said Golden State's depleted lineup and 22-38 record did not factor into the decision to continue to hold Bryant out.

"It's not necessarily been about an opponent, it's been about making sure everything is right," Brown said.

The Lakers hold the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoff standings, just a half game ahead of the No. 4 Los Angeles Clippers. The Clippers beat the Denver Nuggets 104-98 on Wednesday to keep pace with the Lakers.

"You just got to go play the games and win," Brown said. "If you play the games and you win, it doesn't matter where everybody is (in the standings). If you expect a championship, which we expect to do, you're going to have to beat the best of the best ...

"Whoever we play, let's lace 'em up, because we have to go through the best in order to win it."

Added Brown: "We're trying like the Dickens to (hold on to the No. 3 seed), but we're not going to do it at the cost of somebody's health or anything like that."

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