Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum make progress in practice
A few times his teammates played underneath him in the post, Lakers center Andrew Bynum stared down on the ground. Nothing happened on the court that prompted him to react that way. But with Bynum playing in his first full practice since straining his left Achilles' tendon March 19 against Minnesota, he noticed some of his inhibitions kicking in
"That was natural," Bynum said with the Lakers gearing up for their first-round matchup beginning Sunday against Oklahoma City. "I'll have to get through that."
That was really only the setback for Bynum's first session. He reported no pain. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson says he didn't restrict Bynum from any part of practice other than allowing him a five-minute break to rest. And teammates were generally impressed with his first time out.
That also applies to Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who practiced for the first time since sitting out the last two regular season games. He described Friday as a "good practice," says he was satisfied with his conditioning level and Jackson observed Bryant had a "lot livelier legs." Bryant still plans on wearing the splint that helps protect his fractured right index finger. And he believes the extra time off helped his assorted injuries considerably, ranging from his finger, his sprained left ankle and his sore right knee.
"My legs feel better," Bryant said. "The ankle thing was still kind of lingering a bit. That feels a lot better. Rest never hurts. Never hurts."
Nonetheless, not all is well on the injury front. Reserve center D.J. Mbenga is believed to have suffered a concussion after getting elbowed during practice, said a team spokesperson, and he visited a neurologist afterwards. It was believed Bynum was involved in that play, but he vehemently denied it. And as far as Bryant and Bynum go, this is just step one of getting phased back into the lineup even though they serve as two welcome additions.
Case in point, Jackson noted Bryant's shot dipped toward the tail end of practice. Bynum added he'll have a better idea how he feels beginning tomorrow, which is when he expects the after effects of practice to fully kick into place. Still, Bryant's and Bynum's return serves as a positive sign as the Lakers begin preparing for the postseason.
"I’d say it’s Andrew being out there," Jackson said when asked what most pleased him about the team's practice. "We really stayed in touch with what we have to do against the Thunder about defending them and how to get through screens and handle things that we have to handle defensively. That was our priority today."
What transpired from Friday's practice exceeded Bynum's expectations. Yet, even though his prediction that he'd feel pain never came to fruition, Bynum provided a very pragmatic picture. He stressed he's taking the proper steps to ensure his injury doesn't "revert," as he called it, by icing the Achilles' and continuing his therapy. Although he didn't specify to what degree, Bynum doesn't expect heavy minutes right away and predicted a drop off from the performances he posted before his injury. That entailed a month-long average of 15.9 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks on 56.8% shooting. In addition, Bynum shared that Jackson stressed for the post-players, including Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom to become better facilitators, meaning there will be yet another wrinkle for Bynum to master beyond improving his conditioning and timing.
Fortunately for Bynum's case, he can lean on Gasol in the time being. Gasol has peaked this past month, posting season-best averages of 24.3 points and 12.6 rebounds in April. Still, with Oklahoma City possessing a speedy and youthful backcourt, the Lakers' competitive advantage entails their post players. Case in point, Bynum averaged 18 points, eight rebounds and at least 60% against the Thunder this season. That means Bynum's transition period better be a quick one.
Photo: Lakers' Kobe Bryant puts up a shot on Sunday in Los Angeles. Credit: Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press.