Bryant rested many injuries

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Kobe Bryant returned to Lakers practice Friday after sitting out four of the last five games to rest his legs and to alleviate swelling in his right knee and discomfort in his fractured right index finger.

"I feel pretty good," Bryant said. "It was good to get up and down. We worked on quite a bit of things, went over quite a bit of things and this was one of the longest, hardest practices we've had all year.

"My legs feel better. The ankle thing was kind of lingering a little bit, so that feels a lot better. Rest never hurts."

Bryant missed five games in February with a sprained ankle and strained tendon in his left leg after turning his left ankle against Philadelphia on Jan. 31 and later re-aggravated the injury on Feb. 3 when Lamar Odom accidentally stepped on Bryant's left foot in a game against the Charlotte Bobcats.

Bryant was encouraged by Lakers coach Phil Jackson to sit out the final few regular season games to rest his legs so he would be fresh for the postseason. Bryant shot 21-for-70 (30 percent) in his last three games, with Jackson pointing out that Bryant's diminished leg strength was throwing off the trajectory of the shot attempts made by the 14-year veteran. Bryant averaged 27.0 points on 45.6 percent shooting on the season.

The time off seemed to have paid off on Friday.

"I think he feels very confident about what he can do," Jackson said. "He said he felt a lot better, he had a lot livelier legs. The proof is going to be in the pudding obviously and today was our hardest practice, so we'll see what it brings Sunday."

Bryant shot free throws on a side basket at the end of practice while the team ran wind sprints, sharpening his shot and saving his legs at the same time.

"I thought he shot the ball really well to start with, not so much later on," Jackson said about Friday's practice. "He might have tired a little bit, but he was right there."

Bryant said his twice surgically-repaired right knee felt "much improved" after the time off and after experimenting Wednesday with shooting without any protection on his fractured right index finger, Bryant has resumed taping it up.

"I just tried to strengthen [the finger] a little bit, tried to make it a little bit stronger," Bryant said. "The splint is still the same."

Known for assuming a reserved public persona when the playoffs come around, Bryant presented the same focused front he wore for much of the 2009 postseason, speaking in monotone and keeping his answers short and to the point.

Asked if his two daughters, 7-year-old Natalia and 3-year-old Gianna, were ready for their dad to go back to his "grumpy" playoff mode, Bryant revealed he wasn't the only one in his household looking forward to the Lakers first game of the playoffs against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

"They're as competitive as I am," Bryant said. "They know what time it is."

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com