Though they’re certainly glad to have Kobe Bryant(notes) back, the Los Angeles Lakers fared well without him. They didn’t even need a big game from their star to win their last matchup with the Dallas Mavericks.
Bryant, outstanding in his first game back from injury, looks to help the Lakers continue their success against the Mavericks as two of the Western Conference’s top teams meet Wednesday night in Texas.
After missing five games with an ankle injury, Bryant hit a 3-pointer with 4.3 seconds left to lift Los Angeles (43-14) to a 99-98 win over Memphis on Tuesday night.
Bryant, who also tied the game on a 3-pointer with 54 seconds remaining, finished with 32 points including the Lakers’ final nine.
“It’s fun,” he said. “It’s my responsibility to make plays down the stretch. I enjoy it.”
The stellar performance followed his longest absence in five years. Bryant hadn’t played since Feb. 5, but the Lakers managed to go 4-1 without him.
The 12-time All-Star was held to 10 points against the Mavericks (36-21) on Jan. 13, but the Lakers got 22 points and 11 rebounds from Andrew Bynum(notes) in a 100-95 road victory. The only time Bryant scored fewer points this season was when he had five in a 99-97 win over Charlotte on Feb. 3.
Bryant is averaging 15.0 points - 13 below his season average - and shooting 40.5 percent in three games against the Mavericks this season. Still, Los Angeles has won two of those contests, eight of the last nine in the series and three straight in Dallas.
The Lakers have also won seven of their last eight road games overall.
Dallas will be sporting a different look this time, though. This will be the teams’ first meeting since the Mavs acquired Caron Butler(notes), Brendan Haywood(notes) and DeShawn Stevenson(notes) in a Feb. 13 trade with Washington. The 7-foot Haywood could be especially valuable against the Lakers, who sport two of the league’s top 7-footers in Bynum and Pau Gasol(notes).
The Mavs had envisioned using Haywood and Erick Dampier(notes) at the same time against the league’s bigger lineups, but Dampier dislocated a finger in a 99-86 loss to Oklahoma City three days after Haywood’s acquisition and is expected to miss another 2-4 weeks. Haywood has not disappointed as the new starting center, averaging 11.2 points, 11.0 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in five games with the Mavs, who are 4-0 with him in the starting lineup.
He tied his career high with 20 rebounds Monday night as Dallas beat Indiana 91-82. Haywood added three blocks to anchor a defense that was struggling before the trade.
In five games since the deal, Dallas has held each opponent under 100 points. The Mavs’ previous eight opponents had all reached the century mark.
“The guy has rejuvenated himself,” Dallas guard Jason Terry(notes) said of Haywood. “It’s funny. When you’re on a losing team, people don’t see what kind of talent you have. Now that he’s with us, he’s able to showcase his skills.”