Kobe Bryant starts vs. Magic

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- When Kobe Bryant limped out of the American Airlines Center in Dallas on Saturday night after spraining his left ankle against the Mavericks, he said the swelling on the outside of his ankle was the size of a baseball.

But Bryant made progress in rehabbing in the two days since then -- Los Angeles Lakers head coach Phil Jackson said Monday after his team's shootaround that the swelling was now only the size of a squash ball -- and he was in the starting lineup against the the Orlando Magic later Monday night.

"It will be his decision as to whether he's got strength in his leg, in his ankle," Jackson said before the game.

Bryant, averaging a team-high 25 points along with 4.8 assists and 5.2 rebounds, has played in all 67 of his team's games this year.

Jackson credited Bryant's rapid recovery from what the 15-year veteran dubbed the "scariest" ankle sprain of his career to Bryant's overall dedication to keeping his body in peak physical condition.

"He's probably stretched all the ligaments and tendons out in his ankle so he doesn't have a whole lot of tearing going on," Jackson said. "Otherwise, it would be difficult."

The Lakers have three off days following the Orlando game before their next game Friday at home against Minnesota, but Jackson didn't take the schedule into consideration when determining Bryant's status.

"I'd always want him to play if he can," Jackson said.

In other Lakers injury news, backup center Theo Ratliff who has been sidelined since undergoing Nov. 17 surgery on his left knee, worked out with the team's athletic performance coordinator, Alex McKechnie, on Monday.

"It's coming along," said Ratliff. "I was on the floor doing some things, feeling pretty good, feeling pretty confident."

Ratliff averaged 0.3 points, 1.6 rebounds, 0.63 blocks and 8.4 minutes in the eight games he played this season prior to surgery.

The 16-year veteran attempted a comeback in late December, but went too hard, too fast and had to go back to resting his left knee.

"After he geared down a little bit, he's starting to gear up again," Jackson said. "We'll see how this one goes."

With the playoffs just more than a month away, the 37-year-old Ratliff knows that this will be his last chance to get healthy and back in the rotation before the postseason roster is set.

"It has to be within the next week and a half or so," Ratliff said. "Otherwise it just won't happen.

"My main thing is to be able to help the team. That's my ultimate goal, is to be able to be there. Whether I'm used or not, just to be a healthy body in case something does happen."

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.