In L.A.’s Sunday blowout of the Spurs, Matt Barnes played his first minutes since Jan. 7 against New Orleans, 25 games sacrificed to his recovery from torn meniscus in his right knee.
Barnes was on the court for nearly 14 minutes, hitting his first field goal from three-point range, then missing all but one of the next five shots he took. He moved well throughout, was as active on the glass (six boards) in limited time as he was prior to being injured and showed some of his well-known grit while committing three personal fouls.
“I’ll need to get back fully into rhythm,” Barnes said prior to the team’s Monday practice in Atlanta. “I don’t think wind will be an issue because I’m sure my minutes will be monitored, so it’s really just about getting a rhythm and trying not to do too much.
“I was 1-for-2 from the three-point line and the second one rattled out. I think I just have to focus on my layups — I missed a couple last night. But my shot feels fine, and it will be there as I get more and more in shape.”
Being out with an injury is one of the tougher mental barriers to hurdle for NBA players, but Barnes credits his mentality throughout in part to his coach.
“(Phil Jackson is) great with communication,” said Barnes. “Someone on his level, there can be a wall up to new guys or younger guys, but Phil’s been very open with me. We always talk, and it’s been a great relationship so far.”
Sitting on the sidelines and observing helped Barnes — who maintained full confidence in his new team and even shared his thoughts publicly through his Twitter account* — understand what Jackson has had in mind.
*From @Matt_Barnes22 after L.A.’s loss at the buzzer to San Antonio on Feb. 3: “Remember its a marathon not a sprint. No need for panic. When we are completely healthy & focused. No team can beat us in a seven game series.”
“That’s what makes Phil great, his on and off the court preparation for our team,” Barnes explained. “Being in L.A., we’re expected to go 82-0, and when we hit lulls (a lot of people) thinks the season is over and that we’re going to fail, but Phil knows how to keep our minds in it and keeps us focused on what’s important.”
Barnes (25 games) and Andrew Bynum (24) have been the only two Lakers to miss any amount of significant time this season, but since Bynum returned to the starting line up and Barnes has been available off the bench, L.A. is 6-1 and counting heading into Tuesday evening’s contest at Atlanta.