Kobe Bryant said he’s feeling no effects from his injured shin after returning to the Los Angeles Lakers’ lineup.
Hosting Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder should provide another tough test.
Los Angeles tries to avoid a season sweep to Oklahoma City on Sunday in a matchup of teams fighting for playoff position toward the top of the Western Conference.
The Lakers went 5-2 without Bryant in the lineup as he nursed a bruised left shin, but he came back Friday and the team suffered its most lopsided loss of the season in a 121-97 defeat at San Antonio.
Bryant got off to a slow start but shot 5 of 6 from the field in the second half, when he scored 11 of his 18 points.
“I feel great and I feel healthy,” Bryant said. “I’m back now. I feel fresh and I’m back to 100 percent.”
Andrew Bynum scored 17 points – he averaged 26.3 in the previous four games – and had a season-low two rebounds. Pau Gasol added 11 points and eight boards after averaging 21.1 and 10.1, respectively, over his previous seven games.
The Lakers (40-24) are one-half game ahead of the Los Angeles Clippers for the Pacific Division lead and the West’s third seed, but Bynum isn’t worried about where they finish heading into the postseason.
“If we want to keep the third spot we have to win. If not, then we will be fourth,” Bynum said. “The way playoff basketball is with a seven-game series, it doesn’t matter where we are. We play the same.”
Oklahoma City (46-17) trails San Antonio by one-half game for the conference’s top seed and has won both meetings with the Lakers. The Thunder haven’t swept this season series since taking all four matchups in 2000-01 when they were the Seattle SuperSonics.
The Thunder won 100-85 behind Durant’s 33 points on Feb. 23 and 102-93 in Los Angeles on March 29 as Russell Westbrook scored 36.
Bryant struggled in both contests, shooting a combined 28.6 percent (14 of 49) as he averaged 23.5 points.
He’s averaging 27.9 this season and maintains a slight lead over Durant (27.8) as he tries to end the Oklahoma City superstar’s two-year reign as league scoring champion.
Durant had 29 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists in Friday’s 103-92 win over Sacramento.
“Kevin was solid, that was a solid game, he filled out the stat sheet on just about every positive,” coach Scott Brooks told the team’s official website. “He rebounded, he passed and he made his teammates get good looks.
“He has to continue to focus on making his teammates look better and get better and make them get easier shots and he did that tonight.”
Kendrick Perkins added 10 points and seven rebounds for the Thunder, winners of six of eight since a season-worst three-game losing streak.
“We just have to make sure we get our rest,” Perkins said. “We’re going to L.A. for business and not fun, so we have to make sure we take care of our legs, our bodies and we’ll be ready.”
In 22 head-to-head matchups – 16 in the regular season and six in the postseason – Bryant is averaging 26.4 points with Durant averaging 25.0. The Lakers have won 16 of those contests, including a 2010 playoff series.