The Lakers (10-10) host the Phoenix Suns (11-9) Tuesday night at Staples Center.
The Suns are one of the surprise teams in the NBA this season. Predicted by many experts to be one of the worst teams in the league, the Suns are a full game ahead of the Lakers in the Western Conference (in eighth place).
Kobe Bryant made his return on Sunday after eight months off to recover from a torn Achilles' tendon. The Lakers struggled in a loss to the Toronto Raptors as the team looked to reintegrate their star.
To match up with the Suns, Coach Mike D'Antoni will start Jodie Meeks at guard, moving Bryant to small forward. Shawne Williams will start for Robert Sacre with Pau Gasol sliding to center.
Instead of asking a rusty Bryant to guard Eric Bledsoe, an extremely athletic combo guard, Meeks will draw the assignment.
If Bryant were at full strength, the Lakers would probably look for him to take advantage of the smaller Bledsoe (6-foot-1) — but the All-Star guard isn't quite himself yet.
Bledsoe is a strong defender, despite his height. He's also the Suns' leading scorer at 18.6 points a game along with 6.0 assists.
Meeks has been a steady player for the Lakers all season, averaging 13.5 points a game while shooting 50% from the field and 46.9% from three-point range.
The X-factor for L.A. will continue to be Bryant as he works his way back into game shape. At some point, the Lakers are counting on getting their usual production from the five-time NBA champion.
In his one game against the Raptors, Bryant scored just nine points on 22.2% shooting with eight turnovers.
How quickly Bryant returns to form is a vital question for the Lakers this month.
The Suns need Markieff Morris to be a force against the Lakers' inside defense, which has been inconsistent this season.
On Sunday Amir Johnson went for a career-high 32 points against the Lakers. Morris, who comes off the bench for the Suns, could give his team a vital scoring punch.
The Suns are similar to the Lakers in that they beat teams with depth. Phoenix has eight players averaging at least 9.7 points a game.
On a normal night, the Lakers should be able to defend their home court against Phoenix, but the team and Bryant are still adjusting.
The Lakers will especially miss Jordan Farmar (hamstring) off the bench, especially against a team that essentially starts two point guards in Goran Dragic and Bledsoe.
Phoenix will be a very dangerous opponent Tuesday night.
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