Kobe Bryant's still working his way back into form, shape and rhythm after nearly eight months on the shelf following surgery to repair a ruptured left Achilles tendon. But while the 35-year-old Mamba very clearly has a long way to go before he resembles the All-Star offensive performer he was before his injury, he showed during the first quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers' Tuesday matchup with the Phoenix Suns that he's still capable of taking you baseline off the bounce if you crowd him too much.
Head's up, P.J. Tucker:
Bryant bodies Tucker up, gives him a little shoulder shove to create separation, then makes his move, seals Tucker off, gets up and shows us that throwing down isn't just reserved for practice. Sure, it's only two points, but Kobe stuffing one is still a sight for sore eyes ... and after all that time away, you'd have to imagine that it felt pretty good.
Kobe looked a bit more comfortable offensively in his second game back in the lineup, scoring a team-high 20 points on six for 11 shooting and a perfect 8 for 8 mark from the line, and dishing three assists against three turnovers in 29-plus minutes. He didn't seem to force the action quite as much as he did in his debut, taking more shots in the flow of the offense while looking to work a draw-and-kick game out of the post that would generate open looks for his teammates, albeit a different style of looks than those created by pick-and-roll action and dribble penetration sans Bryant.
Bryant did still look a step or two (or maybe three) slow defensively, though, and on that score, he wasn't alone. Phoenix outscored L.A. on the fast-break 21-18, got stellar nights from the point-guard combo of Goran Dragic (a game-high 31 points on 9 for 18 shooting, five assists and just one turnover in 38 minutes) and Eric Bledsoe (18 points, nine assists, four rebounds, three steals) and benefited from the inside-out frontcourt work of twins Marcus Morris and Markieff Morris (37 combined points, 11 rebounds, five assists and two blocks off the Phoenix bench) en route to a 114-108 road win. Jeff Hornacek's team improved to 12-9 on the season, while Mike D'Antoni's squad dipped below .500 at 10-11, and 0-2 since Kobe's return to the lineup.
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A look around the league and the Web that covers it. It's also important to note that the rotation order and starting nods aren't always listed in order of importance. That's for you, dear reader, to figure out.
C: DraftExpress. Mike Schmitz offers an in-depth video scouting breakdown of Nikola Mirotic, a 2011 first-round pick who has become one of the top players in Europe and who may or may not be the stretch-four of the future for the Chicago Bulls. If you've heard his name but never really seen him play, this offers a nice encapsulation of the strengths and weaknesses in his game.
PF: Cavs: The Blog. Kevin Hetrick would like to know what the heck happened to Uncle Drew's ability to get buckets during the 2012-13 All-Star break: "Suddenly last February, Kyrie Irving became a run of the mill, volume chucker."
SF: Rufus on Fire. Elsewhere in "What's wrong with our point guard's offense?" news, Ben Swanson takes a look at Kemba Walker's slow start to the season, what's changed in the Charlotte Bobcats triggerman's offensive output and how Steve Clifford and company might get their table-setter back on track.
SG: 48 Minutes of Hell. A really fun read from Andrew McNeill, who spoke with several San Antonio Spurs about Manu Ginobili's often-unpredictable passing and what it's like to play with someone who is " not going to just throw the perfect chest pass if he can throw it behind his back or over his head to get it to you perfectly."
PG: The Toronto Star. Cathal Kelly listens to those saying Sunday's trade of Rudy Gay and others to the Sacramento Kings is intended toward tanking, but given Gay's penchant for shot-taking and struggle with shot-making, he's not so sure: "If the goal all along was to lose games, Gay was a mission critical part of the package." Grantland's Zach Lowe concurs, calling "the current version of Gay [...] basically a harmful player."
6th: The Hook. Ziller examines how Gay's offensive efficiency has plummeted as his offensive role has increased, and wonders whether the Kings — featuring the league's highest-usage player in DeMarcus Cousins and another possession-eater, point guard Isaiah Thomas, who's about to enter the starting lineup — could get more bang for their buck by forcing Gay to do less.
7th: The Rotation. Colin McGowan on what grinds his gears about much of the criticism of Gay's game, and the games of other "inefficient" players: "When you take a criticism of a player’s tendencies, and blow it up into a larger argument about how the player is somehow wrong to play the way he does — as if being wrong is of any consequence in the playland of sports — you tend to come off as a scolding bore and anti-aesthete."
8th: Valley of the Suns. The Phoenix Suns have stunned an awful lot of us by going 11-9 in their first 20 games, sitting just a half-game out of a playoff slot in the double-tough Western Conference nearly a quarter of the way through a season in which they were expected to post one of the worst records in recent memory ... and yet clearing the balance sheet, accumulating future assets and aiming toward true top-level contention in the years to come remains the franchise's primary goal. What, then, should general manager Ryan McDonough do about Channing Frye, a comparatively expensive veteran who could bring back some value before the February trade deadline, but also provides plenty as a leader who contributes in the Phoenix locker room?
9th: ESPN Boston. Brad Stevens is "not doing cartwheels" after his Boston Celtics blew out the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, and his post-game speech was "boring as heck." Dude sounds like a thrill a minute, but clearly he's doing something right to have the picked-to-crater Celtics at 10-12 and atop the admittedly acrid Atlantic Division.
10th: CelticsHub. But lest we heap too much credit on the coach and give his players short shrift, Tom Westerholm is here to sing the praises of misfit toys like Eastern Conference Player of the Week (no, seriously) Jordan Crawford, who might have been put in position to succeed, but still have to do the job of actually succeeding.
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The buzz around the game may have centered on Kobe Bryant, but the Suns were the stars tonight. Behind several dazzling individual performances, and a team effort, the Suns played from ahead the entire game and put away the Lakers down the stretch.
The Phoenix Suns go for three wins in a row tonight as they play a very beatable Los Angeles Lakers team in a state of flux. Supposedly some guy named Kobe Bryant just returned from an injury.
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