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LAKER REPORT

It's All in the Legs for Bryant

October 26, 2003|Tim Brown | Times Staff Writer

Kobe Bryant wore a sleeveless shirt off the bus Friday night, so perhaps he is beginning to feel better about a body that deflated on him over a sedentary summer.

Two exhibition games into his comeback from knee surgery, however, it is clear to the Lakers that Bryant wasn't exaggerating when he said he hadn't worked out after his early-summer surgeries. He tired quickly against the Sacramento Kings in Las Vegas and has three days to recover for the regular-season opener against the Dallas Mavericks, which should be an end-to-end affair.

He also has three days to decide just how much game he'll take into November and what that should mean to his shot-to-pass ratio, as Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Shaquille O'Neal and whoever starts at small forward are well ahead of him physically.

Attempting to play himself back after four months off, Bryant forced his shot through the weekend, understandable given his need to catch up. O'Neal said Friday night that it should end there, however, at least until his knee is healed.

"He's going to have to take his time," he said. "If he is going to be on the court, he has to make sure everybody else is involved and not really try to do too much until he's ready. But we're going to be fine."

O'Neal added, "I think he has a lot of help out there. When he has a lot of help he should use them. While he's playing like he's playing, he should probably look to be more of a passer until he gets his legs strong. When he gets his legs strong, he can do what he does.

"The ball just has to keep moving and everyone just has to play in the offense."

One of the hardest workers in the game before being charged in July with felony sexual assault, Bryant insisted he would reach his former standards with workouts above and beyond the regular team practices. Many players find it difficult to simply maintain weight and strength during the regular season, when travel, games, practices and other demands leave them desiring another hour of sleep, not another rep.

"I'll get to the point where my legs are in better condition," Bryant said. "I'm not going to be lagging out there for too much longer. My legs will get in better and better condition. It won't be to the point where I was last year, but it will be better. My shots won't be short. Last year, I was just at a really, really high level. It'll just take some time to get there.

"I was buff. I was like a mini-Karl. It'll just take some time. As long as I have my strength there, I'm good. Upper body strength, to me, doesn't mean as much as my lower body. I get my legs right, get them strong where they need to be, where they can carry me, I'll be fine."

He insisted he'd be there by the end of December, which would suggest he'd defer to other players in the offense in the meantime. The good news for the Lakers: Bryant's shoulder and knee are giving him no pain.

"He's kind of frustrated because he can't do the things he's done before, because of his knee," Payton said. "He's got to let it come gradually. I've tried to tell him not to try to do too much."

*

Phil Jackson, himself suffering from gout, gave his players Saturday off. They'll practice today and Monday.

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