It’s possibly the most eagerly awaited comeback since Lazarus. But how will the scheduled return of Kobe Bryant to the Los Angeles Lakers line-up on Sunday affect his own team – and the NBA?
It’s been almost seven months since the former MVP saw his Achilles rupture on the court and at the age of 35, such injuries are potentially game-changing. At the point of that departure, he was averaging 27.3 points in 38.6 minutes per night. Now, by his own admission, on the home straight of his career, you wonder what kind of Bryant we will witness when he takes to the floor against the Toronto Raptors at the Staples Center.
Initially, at least, we can expect curtailed minutes as the Lakers ease him back into the fray. But we may see more assists and fewer points if he is to smoothly integrate into a team which is radically different to the one he left behind.
LA has won six of their last eight, playing with the fourth-highest pace in the NBA, achieving 100.3 possessions per game, a rise of almost four from last term. That’s one reason they’ve been able to average 100.3 points per night without their leading scorer but the other is that they’ve been sharing the load.
The Lakers are fourth overall in assists and their bench is contributing a league-high 46.8 points per game. With Jodie Meeks impressing, and Steve Nash a spent force, we might see Kobe – whose career average for assists is 4.8 - get extended time at the point guard slot in a bid to protect his body and to keep the current chemistry intact.
The future Hall of Famer is 100.0 to be NBA MVP once again – which is a stretch of the imagination. But he’s 12.00 to win another title by 2015. With an intriguing core, and some latitude to sign an extra superstar next summer, these are more promising times in Lakerland than expected.
And with the Raptors dead last in assists, and losing five straight amid line-up changes, expect a Hollywood story for Bryant with Los Angeles at -5.5 at 1.91 on the handicap, with the total points line at 2.05.
There’s also a meeting of old rivals, with the Boston Celtics visiting the New York Knicks. The latter has picked up a little momentum after successive wins but with the C’s proving to be a truly gritty foe, have a look at Boston on the +5 handicap at 1.91.
Take the Lakers over Raptors on the handicap of -5.5 at 1.91
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