There was a rarity at Lakers practice Thursday: Kobe Bryant played with the second team.
No, the arrangement did not involve a demotion. Bryant joined sixth man Nick Young and other reserves so that the starters who will play Friday against the Sacramento Kings would not experience a disruption in their game preparations.
"He was fodder today," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni joked. "Don't tell him I said that. Attribute that to Steve Blake or somebody, would you?"
Bryant could be back with the first team soon enough.
After practicing for a third consecutive day, Bryant said his ankle felt stronger than it had following the previous day's practice. Could he make his season debut Sunday when the Lakers play the Toronto Raptors at Staples Center?
"I'm trying," said Bryant, who has been sidelined since April because of surgery to repair his Achilles' tendon. "I mean, we've got to see how it feels tonight. I'm going to try to get another hard session in and then [Friday] morning try to push it again and the same thing [Friday] evening and just continue to keep on measuring it."
The latest results were mostly positive. Bryant said his ankle was "a little stiff" but had better range of motion than it did after back-to-back practices last month.
"After the first day or so the last time I practiced," Bryant said, "my range of motion became restricted and everything kind of locked up and I wasn't able to run and change directions and sprint like I really wanted to. I don't feel like I have any limitations [now], really. The change of gear is not quite where I want it to be, but it's easy to compensate through that and go out there and be effective."
Bryant spent the portion of practice reporters were allowed to observe shooting jumpers and free throws. He swished several long three-pointers and seemed to move with ease.
"I'm not jumping through the gym by any means," Bryant said, "but I don't need to be able to do that in order to be a great player."
Bryant said he would need to break up lingering scar tissue in his ankle through movement and therapy. He is pleased with his conditioning but still needs to get into basketball shape, acknowledging that his minutes could be limited upon his return.
"The pull-up jump shot, the fadeaways and things like that, my sea legs aren't quite there yet to be able to do that," Bryant said. "The skill is there — I've worked on it quite a bit — and the strength is there, so now it's just trying to get those game legs."
With point guards Steve Nash (nerve damage in back) and Jordan Farmar (torn hamstring) sidelined indefinitely, Bryant said he could help with the ballhandling duties.
"It's no different than how I finished the season last year," Bryant said, "when I had to be able to facilitate and score when the defense dictates."
Nash practiced for about 15 minutes, D'Antoni said, and continued to exhibit improvement from an injury that has sidelined him since Nov. 10. "I think he's in a lot better place," D'Antoni said. … The Lakers reassigned rookie forward Ryan Kelly to their Development League team, the D-Fenders.
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