LOS ANGELES (REUTERS) - Kobe Bryant gave his Los Angeles Lakers teammates a huge boost on Tuesday when he said he could see himself returning to competitive action later this month.
The 35-year-old shooting guard has been sidelined since mid-April with a torn left Achilles' tendon but he looked very much like his old self as he practised hard with the Lakers for a second time in four days.
"I'm pleasantly surprised how I'm moving," Bryant, a 15-time All-Star and a five-time NBA champion, told reporters after performing several five-on-five drills at the team's training facility in El Segundo. "I felt fine.
"I've been doing a great deal of conditioning so I didn't feel tired. I just went out there and played, tried to do what I normally do, try to figure out some things about my game, what I can do at this stage, what I can't do at this stage.
"There are still areas that need to be stronger in terms of jumping, being able to plant quickly, change directions and things like that ... but I can adjust my game and play at a pretty high level right now." Bryant, known throughout his career for his determination to play through pain and various other setbacks, said his ankle felt good.
"We did a really good job," he added. "The range of motion is good. The big thing, obviously, is after today (to) see how it feels later on in the day and see how it feels tomorrow." Asked whether he could envision himself playing for the Lakers in an NBA game later this month, Bryant replied: "Yeah, I can." Head coach Mike D'Antoni said Bryant would not play on Friday when the Lakers are next in action, at home to the Golden State Warriors.
The Los Angeles team will then have four more games before the end of this month - against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday, the Washington Wizards on Nov 26, the Brooklyn Nets on Nov. 27 and the Detroit Pacers on Nov 29.
Bryant was given full medical clearance to resume all basketball activities over the weekend and he linked up with the team for his first full practice on Saturday.
However, D'Antoni has urged caution, and does not want to see his star player rushed back into action.
"He looked real active," D'Antoni said after Bryant's full-speed workout with the team on Tuesday. "But again, I just want to urge caution because we're going to take it easy.
"I know it's hard to with all the speculation, but this is one good step. He needs a few more steps. He hasn't played since April and he looked pretty good." In the absence of Bryant, who is widely regarded as one of the greatest closers in the game, the Lakers have gone 5-7 season and occupy 12th place in the 15-team Western Conference.