It’s as if nothing has changed. Kobe Bryant is back, taking the same kind of shots, ruining the flow of team play the Los Angeles Lakers developed during his time off the court. The defense, with or without him, is probably more of a reason that the Phoenix Suns were able to win 114-108, as Goran Dragic found it very easy to put up one of his best games since arriving in the NBA.
Dragic finished with 31 points, his third 30-point game this season and sixth of his career, all coming while playing for the Suns. Dragic might have put on an individual show, but the win was about the passing from the Suns, allowing Marcus Morris to hit two three pointers and for the team to shoot 51.6% from the field, scoring 56 points in the paint throughout the game.
The Lakers defense was back to its worst. Mike D’Antoni was angry throughout the game about the inconsistency of his team’s play, which has been a constant mark on their offense this season. The defense? It was probably the worst we’ve seen from them, but the Suns tend to have that effect on teams that don’t actually think when playing defense and don’t have any kind of gameplan except play hard and do the best that they can do when guarding.
Kobe Bryant led the scoring with 20 points, finishing with 6-of-11 from the field and 8-of-8 from the line. He posted up a lot more than in the debut against the Raptors, but he also held up play whenever the ball reached his hands. Except for two impressive dunks, one by doing something on his own and another off a brilliant Pau Gasol assist (19 points, 5 rebounds), Bryant slowed down the passing game too often, not to mention being quite a liability on defense.
It’s a process. You just continue to figure out what you can and can’t do. Every game, you try to step up and do a little bit more and just go from there. It’s there. We’ve just got to execute a little better. The willingness and competitiveness is there. We just have to make sure we come out in the right areas and execute it.
One of the problems for the Lakers with Bryant returning is playing against young, fast teams, which the Suns might be the epitome of. Pau Gasol and Bryant can’t run the floor like 20 somethings, and even if Bryant is a lot more talented offensively than most of the players on the Lakers combined, there are too many things in his game that are a problem not just to opponents but to his teammates as well.
Solution? It looks like D’Antoni is once again starting to mess around with rotations, something that really hurt the Lakers early this season, this time starting with Meeks and leaving Wesley Johnson on the bench. The Lakers looked at their best when Nick Young and Xavier Henry were on the floor. They looked at their worse when Steve Blake wasn’t playing, as the ball handling of Meeks and / Kobe Bryant isn’t what the Lakers need right now in order to compete in the Western conference.