Kobe Bryant made his anticipated return, finishing with 13 points on 5-12 shooting as the Los Angeles Lakers picked up a 98-95 victory to open preseason. Despite the slight inefficiency, his fadeaway was in great form, and he did his work from the low block, where many expect him to anchor the Lakers' offense this season.
Another future Hall of Famer, Steve Nash, made his own return tonight, totaling 11 points and 5 assists, but the real story is how Nash actually looked. He's still 40 years old, but it was refreshing to see him play relatively unrestricted basketball for once. He played the first ten minutes of the second half, coming off picks and creating scoring opportunities for himself and teammates -- (almost) like old times. Nash, as you know, has been anything but a familiar face in purple and gold, so it would be great to see him stay healthy for what could be his final season.
Assuming that's not the case, the Lakers' other options, Jeremy Lin and Jordan Clarkson, each left their own marks tonight. Lin totaled ten dimes alongside only one turnover, while Clarkson finished only 3-13, but his six free throw attempts and five rebounds more than compensated for his expected inefficiency. Clarkson showed the athleticism that made him an interesting point guard prospect, while Lin offset his 0-6 shooting by attacking the basket and creating efficient opportunities, including an alley-oop to close the game.
Speaking of interesting prospects, Julius Randle hit the ground running with 10 points and 8 rebounds, contributing the energy many expect will culminate in a Lakers draft-day steal. The seventh overall pick attacked bigs off the dribble, pursued opportunities in transition, and even threw in a nifty reverse layup to finish the first half.
The Lakers allowed 53 points in the first half, but Byron Scott's halftime adjustments helped the team crack down defensively, and Denver finished shooting only 38.7 percent as a result.
The Lakers will have little trouble scoring buckets, especially as Bryant regains his form and Randle earnestly discovers his. It will be their defensive performance that determines how they compete on a nightly basis. But again, it's preseason game number one, and there are worse ways to start things off.
Ty Lawson led the Nuggets with 14 points.