In Kobe Bryant’s second game back from injury, the Los Angeles Lakers will roll out their second different starting lineup.
On Tuesday morning, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni revealed that Robert Sacre will be replaced by Shawne Williams, as the Lakers look to space the floor and add more athleticism. Also, the move should help the Lakers match up against Channing Frye, who is more of a long-range shooter than a traditional bang down low power forward.
The other change is likely more defensive-minded. Jodie Meeks will return to the starting lineup, and Bryant will slide to the small forward position. Wesley Johnson will go to the bench and likely play Williams’ usual role of undersized and athletic power forward.
Against Phoenix's backcourt of Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe, Meeks and Steve Blake offer the Lakers a better chance on the defensive side of the ball. Dragic and Bledsoe are both point guards who can shoot, although Dragic is listed as a shooting guard. No one would argue against Meeks offering more speed in the backcourt that Bryant.
Bryant’s matchup with P.J. Tucker also fits. On Sunday, the 35-year-old Lakers legend revealed that he weighed 225 pounds, which matches Tucker’s listed weight. Bryant is actually listed as one inch taller than his Tuesday night opponent, so size should not be an issue.
Lost in the shuffle is the fact that the Lakers are now starting two shooting guards. With this lineup, Xavier Henry should see more time off the bench, and his 17 points in 14 minutes on Sunday may have been one of the primary reasons for making the switch.
Along with Nick Young, Henry should see more time on the floor. Blake may find himself playing more with the second unit, as his role on the team is adjusting with Bryant taking over significant ball-handling duties. As long as Jordan Farmar is out, the second unit would happily welcome a confident point guard like Blake. Another option is to give Bryant a bit of time with the reserve unit, but D'Antoni is still being cautious with minutes.
Truthfully, the Lakers lack players who can attack the rim. Currently, Henry is the player who does it best, and until Bryant gets his legs back, the Lakers would be wise to involve Henry’s fearless motor as much as possible. When the shot clock is running down and the Lakers need someone to put his head down and attack the basket, Henry is first choice.
On Sunday, it was apparent that Bryant will require a bit more time before he can get back to being that guy. Tuesday’s game against Phoenix should provide a glimpse into how long before Bryant becomes that guy.