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Several injuries keep Lakers trainer busy

Times Staff Writer

Gary Vitti has seen all the bumps, breaks and bruises in 23 years as the Lakers’ trainer.

But he has never been through an exhibition season like this.

“Worst I’ve ever seen,” Vitti said. “We’ve got all the little things, and that’s normal, but we came into camp with preexisting conditions that aren’t just going to go away.”

Of the seven players that sat out Sunday’s exhibition game, Kobe Bryant has not been through a full practice since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in mid-July and Chris Mihm has been sidelined since arthroscopic ankle surgery two weeks after Bryant’s procedure.

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Bryant is closer to returning than Mihm, but he probably won’t play Thursday against Denver in the team’s final exhibition, a team official said Monday.

Bryant is still expected to play in the season opener Tuesday against Phoenix. Mihm could be out another three to four weeks.

“Kobe said to me that his knee feels 10 times better than it did at the end of last season,” Vitti said. “But he does have some discomfort. We don’t want to keep pushing him into pain. We want to get it right now so that we’re not behind the curve. We want to get ahead of the health curve.”

Bryant does not feel pain when he runs in a straight line. His right knee, however, feels “ginger,” to borrow Bryant’s description, when he pushes off his right leg.

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“Straight ahead, he’s OK,” Vitti said. “On one leg, if he gets into a lunge position, it’s still weak. We’ll get him there, though.”

It will take Mihm longer to get there.

Mihm missed 24 of the Lakers’ last 25 games after landing awkwardly on the foot of Seattle forward Rashard Lewis in the final minute of a mid-March game. Mihm, who had 20 points and 13 rebounds in that game, tore ligaments on both sides of his ankle.

“I’ve been in athletic training since 1980, and Chris Mihm has the worst ankle injury I’ve seen,” Vitti said. “This is the kind of injury you don’t see in basketball. You see it in a car accident.”

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Mihm felt pain during rehabilitation activities this month and stopped exercising for nine days. He resumed weight-bearing activity Monday but is still a ways from playing.

“We’re three or four weeks away,” Vitti said. “Let’s say it takes a couple weeks to get him ramped up for practice. Then it takes him a couple weeks with practice. But it’s an inexact science. It could be a week earlier or a week later.”

Vitti compared Mihm’s pain tolerance to that of former Lakers guard Derek Fisher.

“This kid is so tough that, like Fisher, they think it’s normal for it to hurt,” he said. “As you dig deeper, you realize they’re in chronic pain. Chris is going to be fine. We just have to do a little bit more to get him to the same place.”

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Mihm and center Kwame Brown could return during a mid-November stretch in which the Lakers have four days of practice between a Nov. 12 game against Memphis and a Nov. 17 game against Toronto.

Brown, who filled in capably for Mihm last season, is out with a bruised rotator cuff and bursitis in his right shoulder. The Lakers will have played eight games without Mihm and Brown if they do not return until Nov. 17, leaving a heavy burden on Andrew Bynum and Ronny Turiaf.

Bynum has played well in the last three exhibition games, averaging 12.7 points and 5.3 rebounds while making 15 of 20 shots (75%). He turns 19 years old Friday.

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com


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