Never mind that Kobe Bryant started Monday night’s preseason opener with an air ball.
Bryant didn’t mind, anyhow. On the next possession, Bryant asked for the ball in the post and hit a turnaround fade away jump shot that has become as synonymous with the 36-year-old’s game as winning. He wasn’t done, though.
Bryant scored or directly assisted on the Lakers’ first six baskets. To say that the “Black Mamba” looked like his old self was accurate, and “old” was not the operative word. Bryant looked every bit as good as he had prior to missing the all but six games of an 82-game season.
For the first preseason game, Bryant’s play would have been enough to satisfy fans across the globe. However, Bryant’s first six baskets provided the perfect prelude to what would come next: Steve Nash.
The Canadian point guard looked like the Phoenix Suns’ version of himself, as he immediately grabbed the baton from Bryant and proceeded to drive for a solo layup before setting up Wesley Johnson for an alley-oop layup. For a change, the 40-year-old wasn’t playing like his age, and the visual on Monday matched the reports from training camp. Nash could still play and be productive.
Nash and Bryant combined for nearly 20 minutes in the first quarter, and the two 19-year veterans produced 13 points and seven assists on 50 percent shooting from the field. Most importantly, they didn’t turn the ball with any frequency. They combined for two turnovers in the half.
Truth be told, both looked like they had in practices and scrimmages—if not better.
In the second half, Bryant and Nash continued their strong play, proving the first half was not an adrenaline-fueled fluke. The pro-Lakers crowd in San Diego understood and applauded the efforts of both veterans and the promising play of the purple and gold.
In the second half, the arena showered Bryant with “MVP” chants as he approached the free throw line for the first time. In a combined 42 minutes, Nash and Bryant finished with 24 points, 10 assists and three rebounds. To further illustrate Bryant’s fitness and full recovery, Lakers’ coach Byron Scott left the 36-year-old on the floor for the duration of the third quarter—all 12 minutes.
Monday night may have only been the first game of preseason, but the Lakers earned a massive win, and that had nothing to do with the scoreboard reading “Lakers 98, Nuggets 95."
Notes: In his first game as a professional, rookie Julius Randle was a standout performer. His strength attacking the rim matched the feeling that the Lakers stole him with the no. 7 pick in the 2014 NBA draft. Johnson left the second half with a left patellar strain and will be re-evaluated on Tuesday.