5 Games Every LA Lakers Fan Must Circle for Kobe Bryant's Potential Return

Adam Fromal@fromal09National NBA Featured ColumnistSeptember 17, 2013

5 Games Every LA Lakers Fan Must Circle for Kobe Bryant's Potential Return

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    Mamba in. 

    Would any phrase excite Los Angeles Lakers fans more than that one?

    It would signify the official return of Kobe Bryant, who has spent the 2013 offseason rehabbing the ruptured Achilles that he suffered against the Golden State Warriors at the end of the 2012-13 campaign. 

    The normal recovery schedule for an Achilles injury like this calls for six to nine months out of action, and that would put Kobe's return date anywhere from October 12 to January 12. However, there's been nothing but good news throughout the process, and it seems almost certain that we'll be looking at the earlier portion of that date range. 

    As relayed by the Los Angeles Times' Mike Bresnahan, Lakers spokesman John Black is keeping those optimistic feelings going, even if he's tempering the expectations: 

    He's progressing well and has met all the targets and milestones of his rehab, and we expect him to make a full recovery. One of the key issues is to make sure he builds up strength and endurance not only in his Achilles but also in his legs, knees, back and core.

    We're going to avoid giving a target return date until he's doing full weight-bearing running and on-court basketball activities, at the earliest.

    Bresnahan is also reporting that Kobe is likely to miss the entire preseason, so the first time we could see him suit up is the Lakers' actual opening night. But that's not the only date you should circle on your calendar as a potential return for the Mamba. 

    In fact, there are five contests for which you should clear your schedule right now. 

October 29 vs. Los Angeles Clippers

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    This is the obvious choice, as everything points toward excitement. If Kobe is capable of playing at anywhere near 100 percent, he'll be suiting up in purple and gold for the season-opener against the Los Angeles Clippers

    It's the first game of the season.

    That alone should speak to the appeal, as the Lakers will be undefeated and still hoping to advance through the NBA gauntlet without a single loss. The opening contest is a time of optimism, when fans are excited by expectations and hoping for greatness, even at the expense of realism. That dream of the first 82-0 season in basketball history is still alive.

    But this game offers more than just that extreme level of hope. 

    It's a home contest, and it's against the Los Angeles Clippers.

    Slowly but surely, the Clippers are starting to win the Battle for L.A.

    They have the more talented roster in 2013-14, and they're coming off a more successful season than the team commonly viewed as their bigger and better brother. 

    Anyone think Kobe is particularly happy about that? 

    Even if it's just for one night, he'll be looking to prove that the Lakers still run Tinseltown. 

    But if he doesn't return for this game, fans of the Mamba should start looking forward to...

November 1 vs. San Antonio Spurs

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    The Lakers' next home game is arguably an even tougher contest. 

    While the Clippers are hoping to rise into that class of truly elite teams—a goal I feel quite confident that they'll achieve—the San Antonio Spurs are already there. This team has been the class of the Western Conference for a long time, and it's returning all key parts after advancing to the NBA Finals and coming within a made free throw of dethroning the Miami Heat

    Who doesn't want to take down the defending conference champions? 

    The Spurs brutalized the Lakers during the postseason as Kobe watched from the sideline. Even though he wasn't playing, the taste of defeat was presumably rather bitter. Those types of competitive juices don't stop running through the Mamba's veins even while he's wearing the wrong type of outfit. 

    Now he gets a shot at redemption, and that taste would be especially sweet if it came during his first outing of the 2013-14 season. 

    Unless the timing prohibits it or there are some serious external factors, Kobe will inevitably want to return at the Staples Center. There's something special about hearing the roars of the home crowd, and it just wouldn't be the same in an opponent's venue. 

    This is the second home game of the season, which only enhances the possibility of a No. 24 sighting. 

    But if he doesn't return for this game, fans of the Mamba should start looking forward to...

November 7 at Houston Rockets

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    This would count as one of those exigent circumstances. 

    While Kobe will do everything in his power to return both as early as possible and in front of a Staples Center crowd that's filled to capacity, he wouldn't be able to resist torching the Houston Rockets if he were healthy enough to play. 

    And it's not like he can wait until the Rockets come to visit L.A. That doesn't happen until February 19, and something tells me that the shooting guard will be back in action long before the calendars flip over to 2014. 

    There are two main reasons that Kobe has this game circled on his calendar, whether it functions as his return to action or just another outing on the schedule. 

    First is the battle with James Harden. The bearded 2-guard is quickly challenging him for supremacy at his position, and Kobe can't resist those individual battles. He'll take pleasure in attempting to shut down Harden while torching him repeatedly on the more glamorous end of the court. 

    And that's not even the most important reason. 

    That would be reserved for Dwight Howard, the center who spurned the Lakers in free agency, bolting for the Rockets after one unsuccessful season in Hollywood. There's absolutely no way Kobe will fail to get pumped up the first time he sees D12 on the court, and you can be certain that he'll at least attempt to create a poster that prominently features his former teammate. 

    This matchup is sure to be the fuel for a lot of media-driven hype, but that's for good reason.

    Granted, it'll be that exciting to Bryant, and that heart-pounding nature will carry over to the rest of his team and their fans through osmosis. 

    But if he doesn't return for this game, fans of the Mamba should start looking forward to...

November 10 vs. Minnesota Timberwolves

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    The timing of this game just makes sense. 

    After the Lakers play three home games within the first four outings of the season, they have a bit of a road trip. There's the Houston game (discussed on the last slide), which comes after a trip to face off against the Dallas Mavericks. Then the Lakers travel to play against the New Orleans Pelicans

    With the exception of the Rockets contest, none of the road games make sense to pinpoint as the return date for the Mamba. 

    But the first home game after the road trip does. 

    We'll be nearly two weeks into the NBA season, giving Kobe plenty more time to assume an injury timetable that mortals can actually identify with. He won't be rushing the return as much, but he'll still have the luxury of coming back early in the season and in front of the Staples Center crowd. 

    Plus, he's bound to have a big game. 

    But who exactly on the Minnesota Timberwolves is going to guard Bryant?

    Is Ricky Rubio going to step up to the challenge on a consistent basis? Is Kevin Martin suddenly going to learn how to prevent points? Are the 'Wolves going to cave and give up offense for defense by messing with the rotation? 

    Kobe is going to put up monster numbers in this game no matter what strategy Rick Adelman uses. And who doesn't love to begin the season with gaudy averages? 

    But if he doesn't return for this game, fans of the Mamba should start looking forward to...

November 13 at Denver Nuggets

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    You know who loves challenges? 

    Kobe Bryant. 

    Undoubtedly, few situations pose more difficulty than traveling to the Pepsi Center in an attempt to take down the Denver Nuggets.

    During the 2012-13 season, only three teams were able to do so successfully in 41 tries. 

    Denver boasted the best home record in the NBA, and while a slight regression to the mean should be expected, the Mile High City is still an awfully difficult place to play. 

    Kobe has always been an ultra-aware player, and something tells me that this isn't lost on him. He's probably already looking to this game as a challenge and gameplanning to see how he can successfully beat the Nuggets on their home court. 

    And unless the team gets a better shooting guard than Randy Foye to emerge in the next few months, he could be in for another big game. 

    This is the last of the possible return dates for Kobe. At this point, we're well into the 2013-14 campaign, and only an unforeseen setback—two words that aren't often used in the same sentence as the name Kobe Bryant—would keep him out of action for more than the first 10 games of the season. 

    Let's keep our fingers crossed that we aren't forced into reevaluating the return date.

    After all, the NBA is better when Kobe is on the court.