Three weeks ago, Kobe Bryant returned to practice with the Los Angeles Lakers, seven months removed from a torn Achilles tendon that ruined any chance of a deep postseason run. The Lakers and Bryant remained mum on when exactly the superstar and future Hall of Famer would make his season debut, and refused to hold the 35-year-old to any sort of strict timeline.
Now the 10-9 Lakers are reportedly set to welcome Bryant back to the floor on Sunday night at home against the Toronto Raptors. The game will be nationally televised on NBA TV at 9:30 p.m. ET.
The Lakers may have expertly timed Bryant’s return to the floor during a quick two-game home stand, with a night off in between. Bryant can get his legs back in front of a friendly crowd before L.A. hits the road for seven of their next nine games.
A Hollywood producer likely couldn’t have scripted Bryant’s return any better, matching up with the team he torched for 81 points back in 2006, the second highest total in a single NBA game.
There is no word on how many minutes head coach Mike D’Antoni will allow Bryant to play, and there have only been reports of drills and long-range shooting in practice. Bryant reportedly told the Los Angeles Times that he still needed to break up scar tissue around the injury, but that he has noticed an increase in his range of motion.
Last year, the Lakers were marred by severe chemistry issues, a major coaching change, and porous defense. It was all capped by a Bryant-less first round sweep in the playoffs. But in the first 19 games of this season, the Lakers and D’Antoni have stayed afloat without Bryant
With a 10-9 record and a half game out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, the Lakers are averaging 101.3 points per game, thanks to a 40.7 percent mark from three on 26.3 attempts per game, and is fourth in the league with 24.1 assists.
Shooting guards Jodie Meeks and Nick Young have also stepped up on the perimeter, with the former averaging a career-high 13.5 points and knocking down 47.3 percent of his three-point attempts. Meanwhile, Steve Blake has run the point for 7.8 assists a game, with Steve Nash still out due to injury.
Defense is still an issue with the Lakers ranked 27th in the league. The team is also missing Bryant’s incredible slashing abilities, averaging 20.1 free attempts per game, fifth worst in the NBA.
Never one to shy away from a little flair and showmanship, Bryant pre-empted his comeback by posting a video on his official Facebook page.
In a single shot, the two minute long clip entitled “Seasons Of Legend” depicts Bryant’s No. 24 jersey flapping in the air as the seasons rapidly change, and ends with the date of Dec. 8.