Suns-Lakers Preview

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.