Kobe Bryant and the Lakers say they're ready for his return against Memphis
Move over Mamba. There's a new show in town in the animal kingdom. And that title belongs to the gazelle, the animal Lakers guard Kobe Bryant compared himself to when talking about his left ankle.
"I feel fine," said Bryant, who said he would play Tuesday against the Memphis Grizzlies after missing the last five games because of a sprained left ankle and a sore tendon. "I feel like a gazelle."
That's a dose of good news to an otherwise injury-riddled team. But with Bryant back in the lineup, the major injuries strictly revolve among the reserves, including Sasha Vujacic (right shoulder) and Luke Walton (pinched nerve in lower back). And though Bryant says his ankle is at about 80-85% recovered, he says he's comfortable being on the court "while I play to get to 100%."
Among the bullet points regarding his injury:*His return revolves around a simple criteria ("It's just if it's ready to go. That's always been my stance.").
*The five-day period between last week's game against Boston and tomorrow's game against Memphis had zero influence on his decision to sit against the Celtics ("I just wasn’t ready to play. If I was ready to go, I would’ve went. Days off and the next day doesn’t have anything to do with my decision. It’s just all about how I feel at that point.").
*He acknowledges the Lakers' back-to-back games against Memphis and Dallas will present challenges, including his own injury ("That's the ultimate test to see how it develops.").
*And with the Lakers (42-14) holding a 4-1 record during Bryant's absence, he's not worried one bit about team chemistry being an adjustment ("Everybody is playing with a pretty good rhythm. The key is just to keep it going.")
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson maintained a wait-and-see approach regarding mostly everything involving Bryant's injury. He was noncommittal on how many minutes Bryant would play and if there's going to be any adjustment period. He didn't talk about the need for the team to maintain its team balance, acknowledging, "We'll assume it'll happen."
Jackson was open to the idea that forward Adam Morrison would see increased playing time because of the absence of Vujacic and Walton. And he made it pretty clear that the increased minutes from Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar during Bryant's absence weren't an indicator of increased minutes upon Bryant's return.
The Lakers welcomed the return, but stressed they must sustain the team balance and defensive performances that were present throughout their 4-1 run without Bryant. The five games featured at least four players each scoring in double digits and the team holding opponents below their points per game allowed average (96.21).
Forward Pau Gasol conceded maintaining those marks will be a challenge, saying Bryant's return "will be a little bit of an adjustment for us." But when a reporter asked forward Ron Artest how he thinks Bryant will do adjusting back into the lineup, Artest made his point abundantly clear: "It's how we're looking getting back with Kobe. Don't get it twisted now. This is the Mamba show and we're happy to have him back."
Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant will make his return Tuesday against Memphis after missing the last five games because of a sprained left ankle and injured tendon. Credit: Mark Weber/Associated Press.