SAN FRANCISCO – Many fans in the Kezar Pavilion crowd groaned as Matt Barnes(notes) was pummeled from behind when he drove to the basket Thursday night. Los Angeles Lakers officials should be glad they weren't among those watching. By the time the evening was over, Barnes had taken four hard fouls, reason enough for the Lakers to be concerned about the health of their swingman.
Barnes, however, wasn't worried. He used the San Francisco Bay Area Pro-Am League – which boasts a distinguished group of alumni including Gary Payton, Jason Kidd(notes), Tim Hardaway, Steve Nash(notes) and Kevin Johnson – to test his surgically repaired right knee for the first time in an organized game since the end of the Lakers' season. Barnes scored 28 points while playing most of the game, a 123-120 overtime loss for his Dream Team.
Afterward, Barnes said his knee was fine.
"My legs feel it the most," Barnes told Yahoo! Sports. "Some shots at the end of the game I felt flat. Overall, after taking [nearly three months] off, and it’s my first time playing, it’s not too bad.
"I don’t mind the hard hits. That’s the way I play. I’m going to give them back just like I take them. I expect everyone’s best out here. These guys play hard as [expletive] when they play NBA guys and I love it."
After turning down an open shot with his team down a point, Barnes overthrew an alley-oop pass with about six seconds left in OT. During a timeout that followed, Barnes took off his jersey and shook his head in frustration knowing his turnover likely cost his team an chance to win.
Of course, that frustration was nothing compared to what Barnes experienced during his first season with the Lakers. He averaged 6.7 points, 4.3 rebounds and 19.2 minutes during the regular season, but missed 26 games after having right knee surgery to repair a cartilage tear. Barnes also said he began being hampered by a pinch nerve in early March that kept him from strengthening his knee before the postseason. His averages dipped to 3.6 points, 2.8 rebounds and 13.1 minutes in the playoffs – a run that ended when the Lakers were swept in the second round by the Dallas Mavericks.
"It was the hardest thing I’ve been through in my life – to finally be a Laker, not being able to contribute," Barnes, who exercised his $1.9 million option for next season. "That’s not to say we would have won. But I know I could’ve helped out as far as physicality, defense, rebounding, toughness and knocking down shots. That’s all the things I could do and not being able to be out there killed me."
Barnes admitted new Lakers coach Mike Brown has "a lot of things stacked against" him in trying to follow Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson. But he also thinks Brown will benefit from the returning Lakers having a "huge chip" on their shoulders in wanting to atone for their disappointing finish to the season.
Barnes isn't considering playing overseas during the lockout, preferring to focus on preparing for an NBA season that might not start for some time. He said all the Lakers are "putting in the work to be strong next year," but none are working harder than Kobe Bryant(notes). Barnes recently saw Bryant's offseason regimen during Bryant's basketball camp in Santa Barbara, Calif.
"He looked like he was in playoff shape," Barnes said. "He was dunking. Doing 360[-degree dunks]. He looked like the young Kobe. If our leader is going to be ready and set the tone, it’s our job – everybody – to raise our level. I definitely feel we will do that.
"[Bryant] said just to be ready next year, and he was telling me how hard he was working. I was letting him know I’m right out there with him."
Barnes' Dream Team lost to a team that included New Mexico State senior forward Wendell McKines, who scored 45 points. But neither Barnes nor McKines drew as much support as 15-year-old phenom Aaron Gordon. Gordon, a 6-foot-7, 210-pound forward who attends San Jose Archbishop Mitty High and won't turn 16 until Sept. 15, scored 28 points and impressed the crowd with several dunks.
"He’s 15?" Barnes said. "Oh, wow. Oh, yeah. He’s a monster."
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