Kobe Bryant will return on Sunday night, but don’t expect him to be playing 40 minutes per game just yet.
Head coach Mike D’Antoni says that while Bryant is medically cleared, he’ll still find himself getting winded due to not playing in an NBA game for eight months. Essentially, this is Kobe’s pre-season.
Bryant’s return to the starting lineup will also mean that Jodie Meeks will head back to the bench, according to Mark Medina:
[pullquote]Bryant will start at shooting guard, sliding Jodie Meeks to the bench. But Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said Bryant won’t nearly play the 38 minutes he averaged per game in the previous two seasons.
“I don’t think it’s a magical number,” D’Antoni said. “He’s totally well and ready to go. I think he’ll be limited by his wind and ability to take the pounding. I would be surprised if it’s more than in the 20’s. It shouldn’t be any more than that.”
Bryant didn’t speak to reporters following a light practice Saturday, but he’s echoed support for that idea in recent weeks. Good thing for Bryant considering D’Antoni made it clear who’s calling the shots.
“Do I expect I have to control him?” D’Antoni said. “Do I expect I can control him? I don’t expect anything. That would very dangerous on my part to think I can do that.”
“We’ll watch it. He’ll know,” D’Antoni said. “He doesn’t want to play bad. His competitiveness might get the best of him. SO we’ll talk and stuff. But at that point, Kobe does what Kobe does. He’ll understand his body.”[/pullquote]
Meeks is playing some of the best basketball of his career right now, posting numbers of 13.5 points per game while shooting 47 percent from three-point range. Hopefully, Jodie can continue to bring that scoring punch off the bench.
I like the decision to leave Wesley Johnson in the starting lineup: Johnson has been a pleasant surprise this year, especially on the defensive end.
Johnson is averaging 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals per game, and regularly uses his length to be a nuisance on defense. His offensive game isn’t too shabby, either: he’s currently shooting 45 percent from three, so hopefully he’ll be able to space the floor when he finally teams up with Kobe for the first time.