Kobe Bryant is back, but all is not well in the Los Angeles Lakers universe. Bryant's first game back after missing seven with a shin injury was a troubling, 24-point loss to the possible No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, the San Antonio Spurs, Friday night.
Andrew Bynum played inspired, focus basketball without Kobe, leading the team to a 5-2 record while averaging more than 26 points per game in the process. Bynum scored 17 against the Spurs. Kobe, leading the league in scoring, scored 18. The Lakers always have the "Championship or Bust" mantra — it comes with the territory — so that kind of production isn't going to cut it. Here's what Bryant said of his shin after Friday's game, from the Associated Press:
"I feel great and I feel healthy," Bryant said. "I'm back now. I feel fresh and I'm back to 100 percent."
Kobe's never one to shy away from talking about the myriad injuries he's constantly suffering from, so it's not necessarily naïve to take him at his word. He should be his typical self for the playoffs, the good and the sometimes bad. What will be key for the Lakers is how Bynum re-adjusts to being the second option and the ways Ramon Sessions deals with the pressures of being the point guard of the Lakers in the playoffs that Derek Fisher handled well.
The Oklahoma City Thunderare trying to catch the Spurs for the No. 1 seed and home court advantage through the conference playoffs. Home court is perhaps more important for the Thunder than for any other title contender, as they play in perhaps the best home arena in the league. They're good enough to not really bother to worry about who they play in the first round among the potential Nos. 7 and 8 seeds, but they appear to be equipped to handle the small Nuggets than the towering Jazz.