Kobe Bryant is back.
He practiced on his sore ankle for a couple days, declared it "80 to 85 percent" there and said he is ready to go tonight when the Lakers take on the Memphis Grizzlies in the city of Elvis and barbeque. Congratulation former Trojan OJ Mayo, you went from having to stop Shannon Brown tonight to being asked to stop a rested Kobe Bryant — have fun with that.
Kobe was out after Lamar Odom stepped on Kobe’s foot and sprained his ankle against Charlotte. The Lakers won four of five without their star attraction, although it would be a mistake to say they didn’t miss him. The Lakers offense without Kobe was less productive any way you slice the numbers. The team did a good job of running the offense through Pau Gasol, there was better ball and player movement, but there are times you need a guy who can create his on shot off the dribble. Kobe can do that as well as anyone who has ever laced up sneakers.
Plus, Kobe just hits shots. Sometimes ridiculous shots. At the end of the day, basketball is about guys who can hit shots.
The side of the ball that will be interesting to watch is on defense — the Lakers played better without Kobe. It sounds strange because Kobe is an all-world defender when he wants to be, although he likes to play “free safety” and gamble for steals a little more than is comfortable. Still, you can’t have too many lock-down defenders on the perimeter.
But without Kobe, the other Lakers were more focused and had much tighter defensive rotations. They took away driving lanes and contested jump shots. Even when they lost to the Celtics, it was because they didn’t score but two points in the final seven minutes, not because the defense wasn’t good.
Phil Jackson has the task of getting the best of both worlds out of this team as it starts to enter a push toward the playoffs — Kobe and all he brings, plus the more aggressive and disciplined teammates Lakers fans have seen in recent weeks. The Lakers also need a Kobe committed to the team, one not quite so wiling to break out and do his own thing at the slightest hint of problems.
Best of all, they get hero Kobe back as well, because with a few months left in the season and the playoffs, the Lakers will need someone to sink a few last second game winners. And Kobe is the ultimate Laker for that.
Kobe Bryant Back for Lakers Tonight
The Lakers may have won four of five without him, but they needed him back.
Kobe Bryant is back.