LOS ANGELES – Despite the Los Angeles losing each of the first two games that Kobe Bryant has played in this season, they were foretelling of the 15-time All-Star’s improvement in his recovery from his surgically-repaired left Achilles tendon.
Bryant in his second game on Tuesday was much more aggressive as he scored 20 points on 6-of-11 shooting from the field in 29 minutes that included a dunk after he blew by Phoenix Suns forward P.J. Tucker for a right-handed slam, and hit a face up 20-foot bank shot.
“Yeah, that’s my go-to stuff, that’s’ rhythm stuff,” Bryant said of his bank shot. “Catching it in the mid post area and facing up and operating from there that’s stuff I ‘ve been doing for years. I feel very comfortable doing that. As far as going to the basket is something completely different. I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do that or not, but I figured I would just try it.”
He was also on several occasions able to get to the rim and finish with a layup or draw a foul as evident by his eight free throw attempts. This was a step up from Sunday’s game where he appeared to be hesitant on driving to the basket and when he did he would dish it off to a teammate.
“I didn’t expect to shoot the ball this well,” Bryant said of his 55 percent shooting performance on Tuesday. “Normally the preseason is where I kind of get my legs going…I wasn’t anticipating shooting the ball that well tonight, but I put a lot work in the day after (Sunday’s) game. I went and shot quite a bit. I got my legs ready and hopefully it will carry on.”
Bryant seemed more assertive on offense and at times looked like the player he was prior to injury such as when he took his patent turnaround fade away jumper late in the fourth quarter. Although the 18-year veteran showed flashes of brilliance, it is still going to awhile before he performs consistently at a high level due to fact that he did not participate in training camp and missed 27 games combined from the preseason into the regular season.
“I felt fine, and I felt good and really in terms of where to operate from (on the floor). Not so much at the top of the floor, but more on the elbow and below,” Bryant said. “I am running a lot of screen rolls and putting pressure on the defense that way, which compared to the past I was pretty much handling the ball most of the time. And now I can put more pressure by screening and forcing rotations.”
Bryant is getting his body back in “game shape” as he is trying to shed 2o pounds from 225 to 205 and is most importantly getting his ankle used to the daily workload of playing basketball.
“It’s just the ankle getting used to running again. It still locks up and still gets tight,” Bryant said. “You know practice it’s non-stop so its always warm and in games you sit out and it gets tight on you. The joint has to kind of get used to that again.”
As Bryant gets more games under his belt the more he will look like the player prior to the injury, and his coaches and teammates know that is going to take some time before that comes to fruition.
“He’s going to get better,” head coach Mike D’Antoni said. “He’ll get his legs under him a little more and he’ll lengthen a little bit, but again it’s little bit of not knowing where everyone fits in yet, and I don’t think they know where they fit in.
It is going to be a process that will take time before he will be able to get any consistency on the court.
“I think it’s a work in progress. We have to stay on it and maker sure we continue to make thing happen for ourselves and for our teammates,” Pau Gasol said.
Xavier Henry also noticed an improvement in his teammates play on the court in Bryant’s second game back with the team.
“He played better,” Henry said. “He took a few more shots and got into his rhythm and that’s good for him, especially coming back. Now we can start moving forward.”
Ultimately, Bryant knows that each game is building block toward getting back to the high level of play he had prior to the injury and it is going to take before he once again play like the Black Mamba.
“It’s a process, you just have to figure out what you can and can’t do,” Bryant said. “Every game, just try and step out and do a little more and do a little more and go from there.”
Photo Credit: Lakers.com