The Lakers have had mixed results with Bryant out, going 4-2 thanks to an impressive four-game winning streak (@ NOH, @ SAS, vs. DEN. vs. DAL) but suffering the team’s two biggest losses of the season at the front and back ends, losing at Phoenix by 20 on April 7 and by 21 to San Antonio on Tuesday evening.
“He always makes a difference,” said head coach Mike Brown after the Spurs game. “Whether you win or lose, his presence is always felt. He’s a guy that can feel or understand tempo; he may or may not say anything to our guys, but the way he helps control it is he may run to the block and ask for it and get the guys to settle down. It calms everybody down.”
Bryant has continued to improve while trying to get back onto the court, walking and shooting with no pain, with running and jumping sans pain being next on head athletic trainer Gary Vitti’s checklist for No. 24′s return.
“He’s done some on-court stuff,” said Brown. “We’re still taking it day by day … there’s a lot of progress that is being made, which is good.”
Brown explained that Bryant’s feel for the game is “so great,” that he’s not too concerned about bringing him back into the fold, whether it’s two games or four games before the playoffs start. And while the Lakers would like to secure the No. 3 seed, which they hold by a half game (plus the tiebreaker) over the Clippers, making sure Bryant is healthy upon returning is the greater priority.
“If (finishing ahead of the Clippers) was our goal, then we’d be trying to rush Kobe back, but the reality of it is, whether we finish first, second, third, fourth, fifth, it doesn’t matter,” said Brown. “I feel like this team is confident enough and good enough to win on anybody’s floor. Now we’re not going to relinquish anything that we have control over. If it happens that we slide down, then we slide down. We’ll play anybody wherever, whenever.”
Bryant’s next chance to play will come at San Antonio on Friday evening.
***UPDATE***: Bryant went through full speed drills several hours prior to Wednesday’s game at Golden State, and responded pain free to running and jumping, which was the next step in his process towards a return. Bryant will be re-evaluated on Thursday to ensure that he continues to feel good before a decision is made about his playing on Friday.