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Lakers G Kobe Bryant still riding bike, no timetable for return

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CHICAGO - Kobe Bryant is riding a bike. That's about all he can do right now, so he's trying not to think about when he might be able to play again for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Bryant broke a bone in his left knee Dec. 17 at Memphis while playing his fourth game in five nights, likely sidelining the superstar guard for six weeks. The injury against the Grizzlies occurred in his sixth game back after he missed the start of the season while recovering from a torn left Achilles tendon.

The pair of injuries for the 35-year-old Bryant raised questions about whether he would ever return to his previous form. But he said Monday night he had no doubt he would play at a similarly high level again.

"There was before I came back the first time because I didn't know how my Achilles was going to respond to playing and changing directions," Bryant said before the Lakers' 102-100 overtime loss at Chicago. "The game in Memphis I had a pretty good feel for it, getting back to being able to do what I normally could do. I feel confident about it. I did play that second half on a fractured leg and played pretty well. I feel pretty good about my chances."

But the rehab from the knee injury has been slow going so far. The 15-time All-Star said he is limited to mostly bike work right now and any talk of a return is up in the air until he returns to the court.

"Try not to think about it too much," he said. "Just go day to day."

Playing without Bryant and Steve Nash, the Lakers have dropped 13 of 16 to fall to 16-26 on the season. But they have received some encouraging play from Kendall Marshall and reserve Nick Young, who had 31 points against the Bulls.

The Lakers face a long road back to contention in the loaded Western Conference, especially with their injury issues. Nash is out with a back problem, and the team also is missing Jordan Farmar (torn left hamstring), Steve Blake (torn elbow ligament) and Xavier Henry (right knee bone bruise).

"It just makes it harder," coach Mike D'Antoni said of playing without two of the team's biggest stars. "You're not quite as good as you were when you had the guy. The biggest thing is how to finish games off because you know where you're going if they're on the floor. You've got to figure that out."

Henry could return soon. He is expected to step up his rehab work when the Lakers practice Wednesday in Miami.

Even with his limited action, Bryant remains one of the most popular players in the league. He had the most All-Star votes among the Western Conference guards when balloting was announced Jan. 9.

The fan voting was set to close Monday night, and the starters for the Feb. 16 game in New Orleans will be announced on Thursday.

"I've always looked forward to playing in All-Star games. It's always something that's been a huge honour," Bryant said. "With that being said, I haven't played. I think some of the other guys who have been out there performing and playing well and are All-Star worthy should be the ones out there playing."

Bryant isn't taking anything for granted in his 18th NBA season, especially with his injury problems over the last two years. All the time on the sideline also has provided more perspective on how the game has changed since he was a rookie in the 1996-97 season.

"It's much, much less physical," he said. "Some of the flagrant fouls I see called nowadays makes me nauseous. You can't touch a guy without it being a flagrant foul. I think some of that are some of the negatives I've seen change. But there's positives, too."

___

Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

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