Phil Jackson hoping to play Matt Barnes Friday against Charlotte
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson hinted that forward Matt Barnes would play Friday against Charlotte, but said he wouldn't make a decision until seeing how Barnes' body responds Friday after participating in his first full-contact Thursday since rehabbing his surgically repaired right knee.
"Matt was all right today," Jackson said. "We'll obviously check and see how he reacts tomorrow and overnight. That kind of stuff. That's when we'll make a decision on this. Right now he's looking pretty good. I'm looking forward to him playing Friday, but we'll see. I'm going to hold back and make a positive declaration about it tomorrow."
Barnes, who publicly stated he felt healthy enough to return last week against Oklahoma City or Minnesota, delegated to Jackson the decision as to whether he'd suit up and play against the Bobcats. But he clearly hoped so. Unsure what his playing status entailed, Barnes fired a text message Wednesday night to Jackson, something he says they've done frequently since the beginning of the season.
The reasons go beyond Barnes' philosophical preference to text over talking on the phone because of his $69.99 plan that includes unlimited text messaging and allowing each other to return messages on their own time. Barnes believed the constant communication would make him better aware of his role, keep Jackson in the loop during his rehabilitation process since suffering a lateral meniscus tear on his right knee Jan. 7 against New Orleans and, of course, wondering what his playing status entails.
"It was very broad and very open, asking what are my chances" of playing Friday against Charlotte, Barnes said. "You know me. I'm trying to get out there."
Barnes said Jackson simply told him that Thursday's practice would provide clearer answers because it would mark his first full-contact practice. Barnes reported no pain, but acknowledged he felt 90% in game shape because of the necessity to catch up on his conditioning. There's no question Barnes has been eager to return, providing Twitter updates on his daily progress, acknowledging he has "a lot of built up energy" and lamenting frustration over the Lakers' three-game losing streak before the All-Star break.
Since then, the Lakers have reeled off five consecutive wins, a stretch Barnes attributed to an improvement in "focus" and "attention to detail."
"It's been tough," Barnes said. "I've been working hard. I've been trying to do my part and get back as soon as I possibly can. But at the same time making sure I'm ready when I come back."
The Lakers have emphasized for Barnes to take his time, believing long-term health will bodes the most importance. But they largely welcome the aggressive and efficient play he provided this season with averages of 7.4 points, 4.8 rebounds in 20.8 minutes per game off the bench.
"Matt is a smart player," Lakers guard Derek Fisher said. "He's tough. He competes and I think he has another guy who has a common goal of what this is all about. Having him back there and his energy on the floor and attitude and approach to things is going to be really valuable the rest of the season."
Photo: Lakers forward Matt Barnes participated in his first full practice Thursday after missing the past 25 games following right knee surgery. Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea / US Presswire