Erratic Lakers eagerly await return of ace closer Bryant

Mon Nov 18, 2013 5:06pm EST
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By Mark Lamport-Stokes

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - While the Los Angeles Lakers have made a better start to this season than many had expected in the absence of Kobe Bryant, there is no question that their 15-time All-Star shooting guard has been sorely missed.

The Lakers have lurched between a few surprising wins, most notably against the Los Angeles Clippers and Houston Rockets, and several disappointing losses, where they suffered due to the lack of a dominating presence in the final quarter.

Bryant is widely regarded as one of the greatest closers in the game and his teammates are eagerly awaiting the return of the 'Black Mamba,' who has been sidelined since mid-April with a torn left Achilles' tendon.

"He's so intelligent that he helps guys get in the right spots and makes the game a lot easier not only for myself but for the whole team," backup shooting guard Jodie Meeks told reporters.

"He's been in the league for almost 20 years, he knows it all inside and out. He's the alpha dog. He tells everybody where to go, gets everyone in the right spots and gives everyone confidence."

Bryant was given full medical clearance to resume all basketball activities over the weekend and the 35-year-old certainly gave his teammates a welcome boost when he joined them on Saturday for several practice drills.

However, Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni has urged caution, and does not want to see his star player rushed back into action.

"Everybody's excited and I'm sure he's excited, but (it's) a little bit premature right now," D'Antoni told reporters on Sunday about Bryant's participation in 5-on-0 drills and half-court work.   Continued...

Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant dives for a loose ball during their NBA game against the Chicago Bulls in Los Angeles, March 10, 2013. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson