SACRAMENTO, Calif. – No Facebook post. No dramatic music to underscore man’s struggles against the forces of nature, or that it gets windy some days. No two-minute video extravaganza.
Just a two-second comment from coach Mike D’Antoni when asked what he aniticpates from the return of Kobe Bryant:
“That he’ll be a dominant player.”
Bryant is almost back, and so are the expectations. The recovery from the torn Achilles’ tendon suffered April 12 that started with the uncertainty of whether he would miss most of 2013-14 advanced to where there was talk from the Lakers that their superstar shooting guard could return for opening night. That talk downshifted over concerns of rushing the comeback got a finish line Friday. He will play Sunday (9:30 p.m. ET on NBA TV).
Lakers against the Raptors. Bryant against his basketball mortality.
“You definitely saw in practice that he felt ready,” said Robert Sacre, who took over as the new starting center Friday against the Kings at Sleep Train Arena as D’Antoni shuffled the lineup in the final pre-Kobe tuneup. “It didn’t look like anything was wrong with him. We just had to trust his judgment and go with that.”
D’Antoni said nothing has been decided on time restrictions for Bryant, and he stayed in Southern California for additional workouts and therapy rather than travel to Sacramento. But Bryant has done well to keep his focus on the long term over the pressing desire to play as soon as possible. Indeed, he was cleared to return to full basketball activities, but wanted to put the left leg through five-on-five practices, get as much timing back as possible and build up his stamina before actually coming back.
“Practice, he has looked good, but we’ll to wait until we get to game time,” D’Antoni said when asked what makes him believe Bryant is ready. “It’s a different level. But, it’s Kobe Bryant, so he’ll figure it out one way or the other. I’m sure there’ll be some rough spots. There’s no way that he’s a hundred percent to start with, but he’ll work his way into game shape and everything else. It’s going to be a positive.”
And if Bryant has to make adjustments in deference to a repaired Achilles’ tendon and being 35 years old?
“He might,” D’Antoni said. “I don’t know. We won’t know until we see him. But he can play any way. He can play below the rim, above the rim, beside the rim. He’ll figure out how he will be effective, and then he’ll come at you with everything he’s got. That’s been his MO and I think that’s what he’ll do.”
In other news involving a Hall-of-Fame bound Lakers guard trying to regenerate, Steve Nash is encouraged by rehabilitation from nerve damage in his back, but is not yet setting a target date for a return. D’Antoni said Nash is “still a little doubtful” for Sunday against Toronto and Nash also downplayed chances of an appearance, saying, “I would imagine if we’re conservative tonight [in staying out Friday] we’ll probably be conservative for Sunday. But we haven’t really had that conversation yet.”
After Sunday, the Lakers next play Tuesday against the Suns, before a four-game trip to Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Atlanta and Memphis. Whenever Nash returns, it will likely be with a restriction on minutes, and that’s on top of the original plan to limit back-to-backs.
“It got a little bit better this week, or at least I was able to get some practices in, and that’s positive,” said Nash, who last played Nov. 10. “But I’m still not sure on a return or anything like that.”