- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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"I hope so," Bryant said as he changed into workout clothes in the locker room before the game in order to undergo his second round of training for the day. "Barring any major setbacks."
If Bryant's rehabilitation from the Achilles injury in his left leg continues the way it's been going, he should return well before that.
Bryant, who previously told reporters he would need three weeks of "rigorous conditioning" before he considered making his season debut, said he is now two weeks into that timeline.
"I've been pushing pretty hard, man," Bryant said. "A lot of running. When you're sitting on your ass for so long, man, the hardest thing is the conditioning and getting back and playing at a high level. Being able to run and play at a high level for 48 minutes is tough, man. You really got to push yourself conditioning-wise to get in shape."
Bryant has yet to ramp up his workout to include much basketball activity and said he is still running primarily north to south, rather than cutting and other movements of that nature.
"I got to really get down being comfortable and feeling strong and going through the fatigue first of running straight forward," Bryant said. "Once that's there and the muscle endurance is there, then you start doing more lateral things."
In a day where the only thing anybody seemed to want to talk about was Howard, Bryant said all the attention was understandable.
"It's always a big deal when free agents of that caliber are going someplace else," Bryant said. "That's always the case. That's true with any free agent. It's expected."
Was Bryant surprised that Los Angeles Clippers fans started off Howard's week with boos when he returned to L.A. to play the Lakers' Staples Center cohabitants on Monday?
"They are [Lakers fans] undercover," Bryant said with a smile. "The city of L.A., whether you're a Clipper fan or a Laker fan, if somebody doesn't want to be with L.A. it's like you take it personally no matter what. It was more of that."
Despite acknowledging in an interview with NBA TV earlier in the week that it was "tough to see eye to eye on a daily basis" with Howard, at least the two's sarcastic senses of humor were in sync.
When Howard was asked at the shootaround how often he thinks about his time in L.A., he responded, "Every day. All the time. Every day."
When Bryant was asked if he has talked to Howard since the failed pitch meeting in July, he replied, "Have I spoke to him? We speak every day."
Bryant was nearly as earnest with that answer as when he coyly explained the reason he recently changed his Twitter avatar to just a black panel with the accompanying hashtags "#blackout #bearhunt" was because, "Well, I'm campaigning to make black an actual color."
Bryant was amused by fans who decoded his tweet to mean he would be returning on Nov. 15 against the Memphis Grizzlies (the bear part) when the Lakers wear their alternative "Hollywood Nights" uniforms for the first time (the black part).
"I thought it was well thought out and very witty," Bryant said.
For the record, the hashtag #blackout refers to what Bryant terms the intense first stage of workouts he goes through every summer when vacation ends and it's time to get back into shape. The hashtag #bearhunt refers to a Jay Z lyric (from the song "I'm On the Rock," by Mavado) that Bryant has used for motivation during his comeback: "If you see me in a fight with a bear, [pray] for the bear."
While Bryant wouldn't be praying for the Rockets on this night as the Lakers came in still searching for their first road win of the season, he did get around to actually complimenting Howard.
"I think from what I've seen, it seems they really want to feature him even more," Bryant said of Houston's 4-1 start, in which Howard averaged 17.4 points on 10.8 shots and 9.6 free throw attempts per game. "It seems like they're posting him up even more. He sounds really determined to have even a more breakout year offensively than he's had in the past, which I think is great. I think he'll have a great year."
However, as Bryant continued the praise, he embedded a challenge in his message for the 10-year veteran with an 18.3 points per game career scoring average.
"He was always very determined to be more of an offensive player and I think here in Houston he'll have that opportunity to do that," Bryant said. "He always wanted to compete with some of the all-time greats -- the Chamberlains, the Shaqs, the Olajuwons and so forth. This year should be the year where he can start putting up those types of numbers -- 25-26 points a game. That sort of thing."