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Kobe Bryant, Lakers to make preseason returns Monday vs. Denver Nuggets

Kobe Bryant, Lakers to make preseason returns Monday vs. Denver Nuggets
Kobe Bryant steals the ball from Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson in May 2012 but is called for a foul during a game in Denver. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Kobe Bryant and the Lakers return to the court on Monday night for their first exhibition game of the 2014-15 season.

The team will host the Denver Nuggets at the Valley View Casino Center in San Diego.

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Bryant, who struggled last season with knee and Achilles' tendon injuries, hasn't played in an NBA game since Dec. 17, in a 96-92 win over the Grizzlies in Memphis.  The Lakers haven't faced an opponent since winning their final game of the season in San Antonio against the Spurs (113-100).  San Antonio would go on to win the NBA title, while the Lakers finished the season with their worst record since coming to Los Angeles at 27-55.

Taking over for Mike D'Antoni, Coach Byron Scott will also make his unofficial debut against Nuggets Coach Brian Shaw (also a former Lakers guard).

The Lakers list Monday's probable starters as Steve Nash, Wesley Johnson, Carlos Boozer, Jordan Hill and Bryant. Nick Young (thumb), Ryan Kelly (hamstring) and Xavier Henry (back, knee) won't play.

With a 19-man training-camp roster, Scott will have more players available than he'll be able to use -- even with the injuries.  The starters aren't likely to get significant minutes against the Nuggets.

The game should also mean the debuts of rookies Julius Randle and Jordan Clarkson. In practices, both played with the team's second unit with Randle backing up Boozer at power forward and Clarkson behind Bryant at shooting guard.

With Young out for up to eight weeks, Bryant may play heavier minutes at small forward, which might give Clarkson and newcomer Wayne Ellington a greater opportunity to play. Ellington's contract isn't guaranteed, but if he makes the regular season roster and lasts through Nov. 15, almost a third of his year's salary of $1.1 million will lock in.

Veteran point guard Ronnie Price, who has a similar non-guaranteed contract until Nov. 15, has made a strong early impression in training camp, both on Scott and teammate Bryant. Camp invite Jeremy Tyler, who has no guarantees, has also made an impression.

Rookies Jabari Brown, Keith Appling and Roscoe Smith may also make their debuts against the Nuggets. All three are long-shots to make the team, given the 15-player maximum. The Lakers have 13 on the team with guaranteed contracts, leaving just two potential spots for players such as Ellington, Price and Tyler.

Last season, the Nuggets (36-46) finished in 11th place in the Western Conference.  The Lakers ended nine games behind their foe in the Northwest Division, and in 14th place in the Western Conference.

The Lakers' regular season opener is on Oct. 28 at Staples Center against the Houston Rockets.

Email Eric Pincus at eric.pincus@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @EricPincus.

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