The Lakers finally get Kobe Bryant back on Sunday night when they host the Toronto Raptors, about 240 days after the team's All-Star guard went down with a torn Achilles' tendon.
In his absence, the Lakers were swept by the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs but have since managed to survive the first six weeks of this season without him, winning 10 of 19 games.
There will be an initial adjustment period as Bryant looks to finds his legs after such a long layoff. He'll need to fit his game into a team that has thrived on sharing the ball.
Last season Bryant took 20.4 shots a game but he also tied his career high with 6.0 assists.
Bryant's shot attempts should dip, assuming Coach Mike D'Antoni shrinks his minutes from last season's 38.5 a night. With Steve Nash (back) and Jordan Farmar (hamstring) sidelined, Bryant may need to be more of a facilitator until the team gets back to full strength.
Later in the season, the Lakers may need Bryant to be a scorer first -- but now, he needs to be one of the team's top playmakers.
Steve Blake is averaging a team-high 7.8 assists per game. Nash (4.8 assists) and Farmar (4.4) aren't available.
Bryant's return will naturally result in dips for most Lakers, starting with minutes. If Xavier Henry, Jodie Meeks and Nick Young lose seven minutes each, that's 21 for Bryant -- probably nine short of what he'll need.
Nine Lakers average at least 8.3 points a game, starting with Chris Kaman, who is currently out of the rotation (while battling back issues).
Pau Gasol (14.5 a night) and Young (14.2) are the team's leading scorers with Meeks right behind at 13.5.
As a team, the Lakers have shot 44.1% from the field and 40.7% from three-point range in Bryant's absence. The Lakers also average 24.1 assists with 14.7 turnovers.
The Lakers managing a 10-9 record without Bryant was impressive, but that's not a playoff pace.
Once the initial adjustment period to Bryant's return is worked through, the Lakers should be able to climb in the Western Conference standings.
ALSO:Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times