Kobe Bryant made his return to practice Saturday, ramping up expectations for his eventual return to the court and to potential salvation for the Lakers. Friday night, while the Lakers were losing to the Memphis Grizzlies, Kobe tweeted that if Friday night’s game was a playoff game he’d be playing. Six months removed from the Achilles injury he suffered versus the Golden State Warriors the Lakers are struggling to keep afloat and badly need their superstar. The worst thing Bryant can do is rush back from injury so he’ll likely work up his conditioning over the next few weeks. According to Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak Bryant will definitely not return in the next two weeks, pushing the timeline to the first week of December at the earliest. So the big question is when will Kobe Bryant return? And when he does return will the Lakers be in contention?
Some of the speculation around Bryant’s return to game action points to the NBA’s traditional Christmas Day game. This year the Lakers take on Lebron James and the defending NBA Champion Miami Heat. A month ago Bryant changed his twitter picture to an image that alluded to 12/25. Whether he’s pointing to Christmas Day for his return or Kobe is simply looking at Christmas Day to be his coming out party the timing of Christmas would force the Lakers to play an additional month without their star. Los Angeles is currently 4-7 and fourth to last in the Western Conference, ahead of just New Orleans, Sacramento and Utah. The Lakers have lost four of their last five games including double digit losses to New Orleans, Minnesota and Denver. Friday night’s loss was a perfect example of where the Lakers miss Bryant. They were facing a 3-6 Memphis team that has struggled all season. The Lakers held a three-point lead going into the fourth quarter only to see Zach Randolph score fourteen in the fourth to put the game away. It’s the type of game that Kobe simply wouldn’t have allowed Memphis to win. In the Western Conference you have to defend your home court and Los Angeles is just 3-3 at STAPLES Center on the season. The Lakers have three games remaining on their current home stand, Detroit, Golden State and Sacramento. The Pistons, who the Lakers play Sunday night, are wrapping up an extended road trip and are ripe for a defeat after beating Sacramento on Friday night. While Golden State is an elite team, the Sacramento Kings are sitting at 2-7 and look completely discombobulated on offense. If Los Angeles can take two of the final three they’ll have some momentum as they leave STAPLES Center.
Whether the Lakers are in contention when Bryant returns is contingent on when he returns. After they wrap up the current home stand the Lakers head east for games at Washington, Brooklyn and Detroit. The Wizards are young and have trouble finishing games, like versus Cleveland on Saturday night. Detroit is a talented bunch but is still getting their rotation and interior combo of Andre Drummond and Greg Monroe to play consistent together. Brooklyn is loaded with veteran talent but has struggled this season and may be without Deron Williams for an extended stretch. After a home game versus Portland the Lakers play at Sacramento followed by home games versus Toronto and Phoenix. This stretch of games encompasses the next three weeks and as far as the Western Conference is concerned is a relatively manageable stretch. If Los Angeles can go 5-5 over these next ten games they could potentially target Friday, December 13th versus the Oklahoma City Thunder for Bryant’s return following over three weeks of practice. If Bryant can give Los Angeles and immediate lift they just may claw back into contention.
If I was a betting man I would be the farm that come hell or high water Kobe Bryant will return to the Lakers to play on Christmas Day if not before! Lakers Tickets are available for Christmas and all other home games at the LA Staples Center. By:Chris Michaels