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12-9
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108
10-11

Suns-Lakers Preview

AP - Sports

Though Kobe Bryant's return to the court didn't pay immediate dividends in the standings, the Los Angeles Lakers are sure glad to have him back.

Following a nine-point, eight-rebound debut after missing the first 19 games due to a torn Achilles' tendon, Bryant will look to continue rounding back into form when the Lakers host the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night.

"My rhythm is completely out of sync,'' Bryant said after a 106-94 loss to Toronto on Sunday. "But this is a start, and I guess a start is good."

The 15-time All-Star played 28 minutes, going 2 of 9 from the field, 5 of 7 from the free-throw line and adding four assists while committing eight turnovers.

"He'll work through his issues, and again, they're baby steps," coach Mike D'Antoni said. "He's coming back from a tough injury, and he's coming off eight months ... he is human, I think. We have to understand it's going to take the other players around him.

"It's going to be a little painful at first, but the biggest thing is just getting everybody else to step up and take care of him, and we did not do that."

The Lakers reserves scored 71 points Sunday, increasing their league-best average to 48.1 per game.

"We're going to have to carry Kobe a little bit, because of course he's not 100 percent, not in game shape," said guard Xavier Henry, who scored 17 off the bench. "It's going to be fun. It's a long year, and he's just getting back."

Bryant's return, though, won't solve all of the Lakers' issues. Pau Gasol has been in a slump, averaging 11.3 points and 30.9 percent shooting in the last four games. Los Angeles is the worst defensive team in the Western Conference, allowing 103.0 points per game, and it's given up at least 100 in four straight contests for the first time this season.

That could mean a big performance at the offensive end for the Suns (11-9), who are averaging 101.2 points and 46.2 percent shooting. Phoenix is also getting big production from its bench, as the reserves have averaged 38.0 points in the past six games.

Backup forward Markieff Morris scored a team-high 25 in a 106-97 win over Toronto on Sunday, with the Suns getting 47 points from reserves. Morris made his first 11 shots and is shooting 50.0 percent on the season.

"I've just got a great feel for the game right now,'' said Morris, who added 11 rebounds. "I'm not trying to shoot as many 3s as I have in the past. I've just been working on driving to the basket and trying to get to the line."

The Lakers (10-10) have recently dominated the Suns at Staples Center, winning 12 of the past 13 meetings, including three victories in the 2010 Western Conference finals. Phoenix, though, has taken four of the past six overall matchups.

Bryant has averaged 31.6 points in his last 19 home games against Phoenix, though he had only four and shot 1 of 8 in the latest such matchup, a 91-85 victory Feb. 12.

"The exciting part is you got a challenge and you got some improvements to make and you sit and you watch them and you break it down and you get ready for the next game and carry it from there," he said.

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