Kobe Bryant Set to Return after 18 day Layoff

The 18-day layoff has paid off. Kobe Bryant will end his five-game absence because of a sprained left ankle and strained tendon in his left leg Tuesday in Memphis and play in his first game since Feb. 5.

“I’ll be good to go,” Bryant said after Lakers practice Monday.

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The 14-year veteran said that strength still remains an issue in the ankle, but overall, “it’s healthy.”

“Where I’m at now, I feel confident about playing and while I play getting to 100 percent,” Bryant said. “It’s about probably 80-85 [percent] right now and the rest of the percentage is made up just through strength.”

Los Angeles went 4-1 with Bryant out of the lineup. The loss came down to the final possession against Boston.

“He’s not coming back in the same position he was at two, three weeks ago, but it’s good to have him out there on the floor,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “I thought his movement was good.”

Jackson and Bryant said the shooting guard’s minutes will not be limited Tuesday despite the ongoing healing, but Wednesday’s game in Dallas could be a challenge.

“There’s always the ultimate test to see how it develops and how it holds the stress or the pressure of travel and playing in a back-to-back,” Bryant said. “That’s always a huge test. We’ll just have to see how it does.”

A dialed-back Bryant could benefit the Lakers considering what happened the last time Los Angeles played the Grizzlies when Bryant scored 44 points on 16-for-28 shooting and L.A. lost the game 95-93. Bryant picked apart the 6-foot-4 O.J. Mayo, and Jackson said Monday that Bryant likes to take advantage of smaller guards, but after that Grizzlies loss there were rumblings in the locker room about the Lakers post players not getting enough touches.

Bryant seemed intent on the Lakers keeping the chemistry they developed with him on the bench.

“I think now everybody is playing with a pretty good rhythm,” Bryant said. “So the key is just to keep it going.”

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