Kobe is back. Stay out of his way, something that should be easy when he's on defense.
The Phoenix Suns and Los Angeles Lakers tussled at Staples Center on Tuesday night. It was a bittersweet result for L.A., as Kobe Bryant looked strong in his second game back, but the Lakers fell 114-108.
Bryant led the Lakers with 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting to go with three assists and three turnovers. But this one first-half highlight is perhaps all you need to know about the game:
While Kobe still doesn't have his legs under him as he continues to get back to 100 percent following the Achilles injury, his aggression and hops on that dunk were both sweet.
It was also encouraging to see that Kobe's presence didn't impact the offensive distribution negatively, as the team shot 49 percent, five other players also scored in double figures and Steve Blake dished 10 dimes.
However, the Suns shot 52 percent from the field and out-rebounded them 43-33. Phoenix also closed out on perimeter jumpers and limited L.A. to 7-of-23 from downtown. The Lakers defense yielded 31 points to Goran Dragic, not to mention 37 points to Marcus and Markieff Morris.
D'Antoni on Lakers poor D, "We've got to man up a little bit. Toughen up out there"— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) December 11, 2013
With the loss, the Lakers' record drops to 10-11 and 0-2 with Bryant. Let's go over the tough loss and distribute grades for every Laker.
Key Player Grades
Kobe Bryant, Shooting Guard
Bryant had several moments of brilliance. The dunk highlight (shown above) was one. Another came in the second half when he busted out some fancy dribbling to vex his defender, went to work on him and then buried the fadeaway jump shot. That's what kids do on the playground when they want to look like Kobe.
Kobe likes that old time rock and roll. http://t.co/H9OyhoI8Kg— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) December 11, 2013
It was good to see Bryant exhibit so much energy and flash such vintage moves in his second game this season. He also got to the line eight times and sank all of those. Bryant committed three turnovers, but that is a marked improvement from the eight turnovers he had on Sunday night against the Toronto Raptors.
Bryant also looked lackluster on defense and completely failed to get back on at least two occasions. Since he is still not at 100 percent physically, it's possible you will see less effort from Bryant on certain possessions, and it's a distinct possibility that he will get his rest while back on D. This wasn't the kind of blackout the Lakers envisioned when they shelled out for all those free T-shirts:
Nevertheless, it was a very encouraging showing from Bryant, and it seems like even better things are soon to come. He was a bit hard on himself after the game, claiming a grade of "B." I disagree with the Mamba.
Kobe gives himself a B. "I did a much better job tonight."— chris palmer (@ChrisPalmerNBA) December 11, 2013
Pau Gasol, Center
Gasol finished the game with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting, but I'm not really sure when he got those. He had a quiet night and actually played fewer minutes (28:45) than Kobe (29:10). Gasol actually added eight points in the game's final 3:10—four on free throws and two on a wide-open dunk—but the Lakers trailed by roughly six points for virtually the entire end game.
It seemed as if Gasol's name didn't get called that often, and the big man only managed the same amount of rebounds as Jodie Meeks with five. He's really being pressed for time by Jordan Hill, as Mike D'Antoni clearly prefers to go small with the lineup.
Pau's garbage time buckets helped mask that game nicely for him.— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) December 11, 2013
Steve Blake, Point Guard
Blake tallied 10 assists in the game and continues to make everyone forget that Steve Nash is still a Laker. Blake scored nine points on 3-of-7 shooting and grabbed five boards and two steals, though he did commit four turnovers.
Dragic and Eric Bledsoe pose a matchup nightmare for most guards, and Blake is not much different. There are not many teams who field two guards with their kind of quickness and ball-handling, and the Lakers struggled mightily against that backcourt tandem.
Jodie Meeks, Shooting Guard
Jodie Meeks scored 13 points in the game, but he was cold from long range. Meeks shot 4-of-5 on two-pointers and 1-of-5 on three-pointers. He did have this sweet reverse layup, although Eric Bledsoe busted out an even better one in the game:
He added an assist and a steal, but he was one of the Lakers responsible for the lackluster defensive showing. Say what you will about plus/minus ratings, Meeks posted a team-worst minus-15. Other than Wesley Johnson, no other player was worse than minus-three in the six-point loss.
Shawne Williams, Power Forward
Shawne Williams started this game, but you can be forgiven if you watched the game and forgot all about that fact. He played just shy of 15 minutes and scored four points. He also corralled four boards and blocked a shot.
The fact that Williams started the game is as puzzling to me as the letter E at the end of his first name.
Rest of Bench
The Lakers bench notched 43 points in a very strong showing, but the Suns got 44 bench points thanks mostly to the Morris brothers.
Xavier Henry showed why some folks were calling him the "X-factor" at the beginning of the season. Henry scored a dozen points and snatched a pair of steals as well. He also scored the first five points of the fourth quarter to give the Lakers a lift and led all bench players with 29 minutes.
Jordan Hill is a knucklehead, but the Lakers seem to like him despite his personal issues. His main attribute is that he is not incredibly old like Gasol. Hill dropped 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting for a very efficient night. Add in his seven boards, three of them offensive, and you start to wonder why Shawne Williams started.
Nick Young had Suns TV announcer Eddie Johnson completely puzzled in the first half. Informed by his broadcast partner, Steve Albert, that Young's nickname is Swaggy P, Johnson had copious questions about that. Then he abandoned those questions to attempt calling Markieff Morris Swaggy M.
Though Swaggy P got outplayed by Swaggy M, he still managed 13 points and three assists. Easily the highlight of his night came when he decided to pump fake a free throw, because, you know, maybe that will work somehow. Also, unnecessary pump faking is swagalicious.
Nick “Swaggy P” Young pump fakes a free throw. GIF: http://t.co/EuDX7dzUjw— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 11, 2013
Wesley Johnson came up with five points, two steals and a block. Big whoop. But he also hooked up with Steve Blake on this truly sweet half-court alley-oop!
Robert Sacre and Ryan Kelly did not play. Chris Kaman did not dress due to back spasms, and Jordan Farmar remains out with a torn hamstring. Overall, the Lakers still got plenty out of their bench, but they just couldn't hold down the Suns enough to fully erase the deficit.
The Lakers get a couple of days off, but then they have to head east to visit the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night. With some time off, perhaps Kobe will see slightly more minutes in that contest.
The Suns face a substantially easier test when they visit the Sacramento Kings on Friday night.