Matt Barnes playing in five-on-five scrimmages
For the first time since suffering a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee nearly seven months ago, Lakers forward Matt Barnes said he participated in five-on-five scrimmages this week at Loyola Marymount.
"No pain. No swelling," Barnes said Wednesday shortly after an appearance at Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA, where he visited about 25 children. "I'm starting to get my speed back and agility and side to side movement. It's like starting over. I'm really trying to regain that."
That also includes improving his strength, mobility and jumping, three areas he'll soon realize how he fares in performing. Barnes plans to travel to San Francisco on Thursday where he'll play in a regular-season game with the "Dream Team," a Pro-Am League team he has played in for the last four years. As Barnes noted, "It'll be my first time playing since the playoffs. So I'm going to be nervous to see what it feels like."
But Barnes prefers having those feelings than the constant frustration he experienced when he injured the knee Jan. 7 against New Orleans. His surgery and rehab kept him sidelined for 26 consecutive games. Once considered one of the Lakers' most reliable bench players because of his hustle, intensity and effective cutting, Barnes soon appeared tentative on the court. His 6.7 points per game on 47% shooting and 4.3 rebounds in 19.2 minutes during the regular season dipped to 3.6 points per game on 37% shooting and 2.8 rebounds in 13.1 minutes in the postseason.
Barnes also shed some light on his injury that the team kept secret until now. Barnes originally planned to return March 4 in a regular-season game against the Charlotte Bobcats, but he sat out after warmups after the team determined he aggravated a nerve.
Barnes acknowledged that immediately after the injury, but never said where. It turns out the nerve was in his lower back, which he said, "traveled through my legs." Even though Barnes said he didn't need any treatment or rehab on his back, the pain made it harder for him to fully recover from knee surgery.
"That brought all the pain back and swelling back," said Barnes, who exercised his $1.91 million player option to remain with the Lakers next season. "Once that happened, the rest of the season, I was out there because I wanted to be there and be a part of the championship run I thought we were going to make. My knee was constantly swollen and constantly hurting.
"It made my knee swell a lot more and it was really painful," Barnes continued. "It was almost impossible to get warm. That's what was so frustrating. I wanted to be out there so bad, but Phil [Jackson] wasn't playing me. You can't blame him, though, because down the stretch, you have to go with what works."
Barnes is determined next season, whenever that is, will be a much different story, promising, "I'll come back and have a big season next year." That's because the lockout has granted him an extended rehabilitation. Once the Lakers fell to the Dallas Mavericks in a four-game sweep in the Western Conference semifinals, Barnes rested for eight consecutive weeks before continuing his rehab. The full-court scrimmages he had this week with Toronto's DeMar DeRozan, Golden State's Corey Maggette, the Clippers' Eric Bledsoe and Sacramento's Pooh Jeter convinced Barnes he won't have anymore setbacks. And though the NBA lockout has prevented him from working with Lakers trainer Gary Vitti, Barnes still works two days a week with physical therapist Judy Seto, who also works at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic.
"I can't talk to none of them," Barnes said of the Lakers, which like all NBA teams, are forbidden from contacting players during the league lockout. " I think maybe she can give [Gary] updates on how I am so they can talk. But I can't talk to them."
Still, Barnes' only limitation points to his inability to play in the Drew League at Washington Park since he said the deadline to sign up coincided with his ongoing rehab. But no longer does he have to worry about the pain that limited his effectiveness. Instead, he can just use that as motivation.
"I watched game film toward the end of the season and the playoffs," Barnes said. "Seeing that, it disgusted me knowing I couldn't do anything and move like I normally could. It really hurt me so that's really been my driving force this summer to get better and come back along with the rest of the team to make a statement."
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Photo: Lakers forward Matt Barnes said Wednesday that his surgically repaired right knee is fully healthy. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times
Photo: Lakers forward Matt Barnes goes for a layup ahead of the defensive pressure of New Orleans guard Quincy Pondexter in the second half of a playoff game at Staples Center. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times / March 27, 2011