Something looked remarkably different on the Lakers’ practice floor, and it didn’t just involve Kobe Bryant’s presence.
It also involved the way he played the game.
In about the 20 minutes of practice open to the media, Bryant didn’t take a single outside shot. His lone basket happened when he threw down a dunk on a fast-break following a steal. Other than that, Bryant mostly passed the ball.
“Get that on tape will you? That won’t happen a lot,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni joked. “He does that in practice sometimes. He goes back and forth. He can get a shot when he wants to.”
Whether Bryant wanted to stay cautious on his left Achilles tendon remains unclear. Bryant didn’t speak to reporters after practice. Later Tuesday at a Turkish Airline event at a Manhattan Beach hotel, Bryant provided little clarity on his progress.
“I feel good,” Bryant said. “I feel good.”
Will that be enough for Bryant to return when the Lakers play Friday in Sacramento?
“We don’t want to jump the gun,” D’Antoni said. “We don’t know. Obviously we have to see how he feels tomorrow and if he practices tomorrow. Obviously we have to see how he feels Thursday and practice Thursday. We’ll see if he’s able, but today he looked good.”
Plenty of attentive eyes watched Bryant’s every move.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak, trainer Gary Vitti and team doctor Steve Lombardo watched the team’s practice. Bryant’s return to practice also sparked a large media contingent, including Chinese Central Television (CCTV).
Bryant scrimmaged with Pau Gasol, Jordan Hill, Wesley Johnson and Steve Blake, who is expected to play despite nursing a hyperextended right elbow. Lakers guard Jodie Meeks mostly guarded Bryant, who struck a good balance between aggressiveness and cautious in his movement. Meanwhile, Bryant’s passing accuracy featured both hits and misses.
Some of Bryant’s passes were either deflected or sailed wide. But Bryant also threw a no-look pass to Shawne Williams for a baseline jumper and connected with Johnson on a three-pointer. Bryant also set up Gasol on the elbows, something they’ve mostly run well during their past 5 1/2 seasons together with the Lakers. Bryant exchanged high-fives with Gasol after a few made jumpers.
“He looked pretty good, real good actually,” Gasol said. “You can tell he’s been working a lot on his own and is in a really good rhythm and he knows what he’s doing out there.”
Still, challenges likely await for whenever Bryant ultimately plays in his first game since shattering his Achilles seven months ago.
“We want Kobe to be Kobe,” D’Antoni said. “He won’t change his game up for us. We’ll adjust where we have to, and he’ll figure out what needs to be done.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org