Denver's JaVale McGee, right, blocks a shot by Lakers forward Matt… (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles…)
Just as he stretched and received treatment on his sprained right ankle, Lakers forward Matt Barnes saw the television feed in the locker room and suddenly stopped. Starting forward Devin Ebanks had just picked up his second foul with only 9:34 left in the first quarter of the Lakers' eventual 104-100 Game 2 first-round playoff victory over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday. So Barnes sprinted out through the players' tunnel just in case Coach Mike Brown would need him.
Barnes' instincts proved correct. He exited the tunnel just in time to sub for Ebanks, preventing Brown from falling back on sending Steve Blake into the lineup. The incident epitomized Barnes' struggle in fully healing his ankle while remaining effective on the court. After posting two points on one-of-five shooting, four assists and two rebounds in 19 minutes against Denver on Tuesday, Barnes told The Times that his ankle feels 75% to 78% healthy.
"It's just rough," he said. "I'm kind of up and down right now with my ankle. Hopefully with a couple days off, I'll be at full strength pretty soon."
The Lakers aren't scheduled to practice Wednesday, allowing Barnes more time for treatment before they practice again Thursday and then play Game 3 at Denver on Friday. Yet his ankle problems hardly sound like good news for the Lakers, who already lack depth at the small-forward position.
Forward Metta World Peace has four games left on his suspension stemming from throwing a vicious elbow last week against Oklahoma City guard James Harden. After posting 12 points in the Lakers' playoff opener, Ebanks struggled with his shot (six points on two-of-seven shooting) while chipping in with eight rebounds and two assists. Meanwhile, Barnes has shot a combined two-of-11 from the field. In a telltale sign regarding their Game 2 struggles, Barnes (four minutes) and Ebanks (three) hardly played in the fourth quarter.
"I'm still getting good shots. They're not falling right now, but that will change." said Barnes, who worked out with Lakers' development coach Phil Handy after the game. "I'm struggling right now, but we're getting the job done as a unit."
Despite Barnes' shooting struggles, the Lakers are satisfied with the energy he provides. In Game 1, he posted six rebounds and four assists. In Game 2, he threw two cross-court passes that led to fast-break dunks within the first minute he entered the lineup. In both games, Barnes effectively cut off the ball to keep the floor balanced.
But he hardly feels satisfied with his play.
"I'm trying to be active," Barnes said. "It's going to turn around. I know very soon I will be healthy and back to normal."
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