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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