The Los Angeles Lakers are currently 9-9 and tied for 10th in the Western Conference. While the odds seem to be stacked against them to make the playoffs with an injury-riddled Pau Gasol and less-than-spectacular current backcourt composition, those odds might be changing over the weekend.
In case you haven't heard, Kobe Bryant is returning to the Lakers on Sunday when they take on the Toronto Raptors at home. The Lakers star, in typical Kobe fashion, made the announcement via social media. And he didn't disappoint:
Get it? He's weathered everything, and now he's returning. OK, moving on.
While Bryant hasn't played a game all season and could likely be as worn out as his jersey is in that two-minute long video, his athleticism and pure scoring ability is something L.A. desperately needs.
Ironically enough, the team the Lakers will be attempting to chase for the eighth spot in the playoffs is the Golden State Warriors, the same team Bryant tore his Achilles tendon against back on April 12. Bryant and the Lakers will get a chance to face the Warriors for the first time since his injury on December 21.
Without Bryant this season, the Lakers have still managed to score 101.1 points per game. Though the numbers look promising in that category, they rank 11th in the Western Conference behind teams like the New Orleans Pelicans and Minnesota Timberwolves.
In comparison, the Lakers scored 102.2 points last season, despite getting off to one of the worst starts in franchise history. Bryant also finished last season with the third-most points per game with 27.3, ranking behind only Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant.
As for Bryant's success against the Raptors, ESPN provides a graphic that proves this might be the perfect time to return for the Lakers legend:
Kobe Bryant averages 28.3 PPG vs. the Raptors. That's his second-highest scoring average vs. a single opponent. pic.twitter.com/wz8C8tJzsu— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) December 6, 2013
Scoring is something Bryant does at a high rate, but the biggest thing the Lakers will need in his return is the defense he provides. The nine-time All-Defensive First-Team guard has been named to at least the first or second team every year—except for 2005—since the 2000 season.
If Bryant can come back as a scoring and defensive threat, the Lakers chances of moving up the ranks into the top eight teams seems much more likely. But can the 35-year-old really be expected to carry a team after recovering from an Achilles injury?
In order to contend with teams like the Warriors, Dallas Mavericks or Denver Nuggets in order to climb into playoff contention, the Lakers hopes will once again rely on Bryant's health. While his return is clearly welcomed for a L.A. team struggling to stay at .500 without his presence, his effectiveness will have to be talked about during the remainder of the season.
There may still be questions heading into his first game of the season for Bryant, and there is one thing that's for sure: His grand entrance on Sunday will likely be bigger and flashier than the video posted by the Lakers. Get ready everyone, Kobe's back.