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Source: Danny Moloshok / Reuters
Kobe Bryant
Source: Danny Moloshok / Reuters

December 10, 2013 — 7:30 PM (PST)
STAPLES Center, Los Angeles, CA
TV: TWC SportsNet / TWC SportsNet Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN (English) / 1330 ESPN (Spanish)

The Los Angeles Lakers (10-10) look to bounce back tonight against the Phoenix Suns (11-9) after a very disappointing loss vs. Toronto Raptors on Sunday. Lakers G Kobe Bryant, who made his season debut on Sunday after tearing his left achilles on April 12th game vs. Golden State Warriors, showed a lot of rust especially with his executing his passes as expected. Bryant scored a pedestrian 9 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists, while committing 8 turnovers. Lakers fans however should be very patient with Bryant and let him play his way to return to his old form and develop an on-court chemistry with the rest of the Lakers, many of whom have never played with Bryant before Sunday’s game. Although the Lakers will struggle as a team the next few weeks to get Kobe in rhythm with the rest of the Lakers, any team with Bryant on the floor will be better off in the long run.

The Phoenix Suns, on the other hand, look to come into Staples Center after 3 days off and come away with a victory tonight. The Suns are led by the point guard duo of PG Goran Dragic and PG Eric Bledsoe. Dragic has performed very well replacing PG Steve Nash to run the show, averaging 17.7 PPG and 6.4 APG. Bledsoe clearly benefited from PG Chris Paul‘s tutelage during his Los Angeles Clippers days, bringing hope for the Suns franchise moving forward. Bledsoe has eerily similar numbers to Dragic, averaging 18.6 PPG and 6.0 APG, while causing havoc on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.

Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has decided to shuffle the starting lineup again to help Bryant on the defensive end so he would not have to guard quick guards like Bledsoe and Dragic tonight. SG Jodie Meeks will replace F Wes Johnson in the lineup to provide a quicker player on defense and F Shawne Williams will replace C Robert Sacre to help spread the floor out and match-up with Suns F Channing Frye.

Projected Starters

PG – Goran Dragic Steve Blake [Advantage: Suns]

SG – Eric Bledsoe / Jodie Meeks [Advantage: Suns]

SF – PJ TuckerKobe Bryant [Advantage: Lakers]

PF – Channing Frye / Shawne Williams [Advantage: Suns]

C – Miles Plumlee / Pau Gasol [Advantage: Lakers]

Notable Bench Players

Suns: G Gerald Green, F Markieff Morris, C Marcus Morris

Lakers: G Xavier Henry, G/F Nick Young, G/F Wesley Johnson, C/F Jordan Hill

X-Factors

Suns: G Gerald Green - who joined the Suns this season after a solid season coming off the bench for the Indiana Pacers, could cause the Lakers a lot of problems tonight. Arguably one of the most athletic players in the NBA, Green definitely helps the Suns run-and-gun style of play with his high flying dunking skills. Although Green has played for the Suns this season scoring at a career high 13.9 PPG, Green has struggled lately, shooting only 6-25 in his last three games. If Green can somewhat offset the points difference the Suns and the Lakers bench, the Suns will be in great shape to win tonight’s game.

Lakers: C Pau Gasol - While the Lakers coaching staff expected Bryant to struggle in his season debut, Bryant did not struggle as much as Gasol vs. Raptors. Gasol, whose sore ankle has clearly affected his mobility on the floor, had another dissappointing game on Sunday, scoring only 11 points on 3-11 shooting, while contributing a lot to Raptors C Amir Johnson‘s career high of 32 points. For the Lakers to have any chance in tonight’s game, Gasol has to play well to offset the Suns backcourt speed. If Gasol lets his sore ankle affect his production as significantly as Sunday’s game, the Suns will make tonight’s game a track meet, which will cause major problems for both Gasol and Bryant.

Bottom Line

As Bryant gets back into regular season form, expect to continue to see a lot of timing issues on the floor as Bryant and the rest of the Lakers learn how to play with each other and communicate more effectively. For the Lakers to have any chance to win tonight’s game, the Lakers bench, who has outscored their opponent’s bench in all but 2 games and lead the NBA in scoring at 48.1 PPG, has to outscore the Suns bench by a significant margin.

Prediction

Suns: 108-96

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With the Lakers off to a poor start, trade rumors have begun to swirl around Kobe Bryant, leading many to speculate if he'll leave for greener pastures. Kobe puts those rumors to rest in his interview with Yahoo Sports.