Lakers' Bryant quickly pushes his pace
LOS ANGELES—To hear everybody talk, Kobe Bryant was 26 years old, not 36. He was merely coming off a bruised thigh and scratched elbow, not a torn Achilles’ tendon and fractured knee.
The Los Angeles Lakers didn’t do any scrimmaging Tuesday, but Bryant made his presence felt while practicing for 2 hours 15 minutes, his first official action since playing only six games last season.
He had to be asked to leave the court. For his own sake.
“Basically, I had to ask Kobe to, you know, ‘Why don’t you shut it down? We’ve got another one tomorrow,’” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said, encouraging Bryant to sit out end-of-practice conditioning.
Bryant said he felt like himself, adding, “and that’s a good thing.”
He also gave Scott quite a distinction after the coach’s first training camp began with the Lakers.
“It’s probably the most running I’ve ever done in an NBA practice,” Bryant said. “Actually, it is for sure. I’ve never run this much.”
Bryant seemed fine with it, hoping to make everyone forget he missed the first 19 games last season while recovering from his Achilles’ injury and the final 57 because of his knee.
“You can tell he’s excited, fired up, motivated and he’s going to get better and better,” Steve Nash said.
The key dates will slowly start to align: Bryant’s first scrimmage will be Wednesday, the Lakers’ first exhibition game next Monday against Denver and the season opener Oct. 28 against Houston.
Other Lakers players were prepared for Scott’s approach, hearing whispers ahead of time he could be more disciplinarian than friend.
“It was definitely a different experience,” Jeremy Lin said. “A lot of defense, running, old-school drills.”
The Lakers worked mainly on — here’s a change — defense, spending about 98 percent of practice on it, Lin said.
Not a bad instinct to hammer at a concept that was a distant second to offense under Mike D’Antoni.
Plenty of it had to do with injuries, but the Lakers were 29th of 30 NBA teams in defense last season, giving up 109.2 points a game. They can thank Philadelphia for allowing 109.9.
It might not be glamorous, but this defense-first thing will continue for a while.
“Every day until I get to the point where I don’t think we need to. And I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Scott said. “I know in my years of playing and coaching that that’s something that wins championships.”
The running might not stop for a while either, though Nash joined Bryant in skipping the end-of-practice sprinting that left plenty of players huffing and puffing, with some even lying down or leaning against the basketball hoop support.
“I want to be a great-conditioned team,” Scott said. “The thing that I told our guys is we’re going to lose some games this year, but it’s not going to be because that team’s in better shape and we ran out of gas in the fourth quarter.”
Nash, who will be 41 in February, practiced for about 90 minutes before heading to the sideline for some rest. Scott said he “was in great shape” after playing only 15 games last season mainly because of recurring nerve damage in his back.
The bigger deal these days is Bryant’s return to the court. Even Bryant acknowledged it.
“I think the Achilles’ injury just ignited a new challenge for me personally to see if I can do this, right?” Bryant said. “Because you don’t know. So it’s a challenge that presented itself to see if I can make this a successful comeback.”