Showtime: 7:30pm PT
Plot: The video packages have been played, the sponsored promos have hit the airwaves and the hype has both exploded and settled. The Black Mamba is back on the court. Let us rejoice.
Kobe's return was a one-game microcosm of what many fans have been thinking since early April: after the smoke cleared and the fervor dissipated, reality quickly settled in. How will Kobe Bean, a 35 year-old shooting guard, work his way into a team 20 games into the season as well as figuring out what his new limitations are? The time for sizzle reels and rank speculation is over: let's get to work.
The first step of this new era? Tonight's contest against the surprising Phoenix Suns.
The 11-9 Suns have collected nearly as many victories already as nearly everyone pegged them to win the entire year. They were largely expected to be a disaster on both ends of the floor, with questions surrounding the chemistry of their young players and willingness or ability to defend. Instead, they've been one of the league's most efficient, fast-paced offenses (what else is new?) and stunningly decent perimeter defenders. First year coach Jeff Hornacek has been a little too good as head of this young crew (whose oldest player is Channing Frye at an "ancient" 30!), guiding the team right out of the lottery and into the playoffs--not exactly the designs the PHX front office had, I'm sure.
Still, this all makes for a tough task for a readjusting Lakers team. Facing a Suns squad that runs all up and down the floor isn't exactly going to help accelerate Kobe's acclimation efforts to many new teammates, but perhaps it will steer LA towards a victory. The Lakers were unsurprisingly stagnant on Sunday against the Raptors, with the offense slowed to a crawl by an otherwise unspectacular and short-handed Toronto team. Perhaps Phoenix's running attack will catalyze the Show's in turn, an absolute must if this team wants to vie for a playoff spot in the ultra-competitive Western Conference. I'd expect guards Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe to absolutely terrorize the Lakers tonight, as they are quick guards and this is the Los Angeles Lakers we're talking about--the more things change, the more they stay the same, right? On the other side of the floor, Steve Nash most likely will not be suiting up against his old team, even as he continues to practice.
Bryant was admittedly out of sync in his debut game, but his passing instincts seemed to be on point. As Mike D'Antoni said after Sunday's contest, it's going to be a long few weeks integrating such a massive piece into the Lakers puzzle. Against a similarly plucky Phoenix squad, we might feel the full extent of those growing pains at STAPLES tonight.
--Follow this author @TheGreatMambino