Kobe plans to return Friday against Spurs

OAKLAND, Calif. – Kobe Bryant plans to play in at least two of the Los Angeles Lakers' final three regular-season games to get ready for the playoffs.

Bryant has missed the past seven games with a shin injury, but said he expects to return Friday when the Lakers visit the San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers also play the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday at home before ending the regular season by visiting the Sacramento Kings on April 26. The Lakers could decide to sit Bryant against the Kings because the playoffs begin two days later.

“It will kind of establish my rhythm more,” Bryant said after the Lakers' victory over the Golden State Warriors. “It finishes the season up the right way and generates the momentum we need toward the postseason.”

Bryant went through a tough on-court workout with Lakers assistant coach Phil Handy about three hours before the Warriors game. Bryant was healthy enough to play against Golden State, but the Lakers opted to give him another couple days of rest.

Bryant last played April 6. He said he's never worried the injury was serious, and he began targeting his return a few days ago.

“It just takes time for it to heal," Bryant said. "There is nothing you can do to expedite it. You just have to sit and wait."

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The Lakers wanted to give Bryant as much time as possible to recover to ensure he's healthy for the playoffs.

Lakers trainer Gary Vitti "said specifically when we decided to shut [Bryant] down that it's better to be overcautious,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said. “If you sit him for five days, and it looks like it's feeling good and then you put him out there and then he re-aggravates it, those five days that you sat him were wasted and you got to start him all over again."

The Lakers went 5-2 without Bryant, and Brown believes the team has grown during his absence.

"With us having the ability to win some games our guys are gaining some confidence," Brown said. "Not only that, [Bryant] is gaining confidence in them.

"Different guys are having to step up at different times through the course of his absence. That could only help us come playoff time or the time we get him back."

Bryant is confident the Lakers are now a legitimate title contender with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol playing at a high level.

“I feel very good about it,” Bryant said. “I believe it’s a championship team. I know it when I see it.”

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