Originally created 12/03/99

Lakers back at full strength



LOS ANGELES -- With the return of Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers finally have all their pieces in place. The way they played without him, that could mean trouble for the rest of the NBA.

Bryant had 19 points, six rebounds and three assists in his first game of the season Wednesday night as the Lakers beat Golden State 93-75 for their fourth straight victory. He hit 7 of 18 field goal attempts, but missed all three of his 3-pointers.

"I felt good getting out there and playing. It was a rush," said Bryant, who drew plenty of raves from the crowd of 17,689 at Staples Center. "My timing was off. My wind was good. I felt tired at first, then I got my second wind. My legs were a little heavy."

Bryant, who averaged 19.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists last season, had been sidelined since breaking his right hand Oct. 13 in the preseason.

"It was nice to have Kobe's energy," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "He's just a wild, impulsive kid right now. He's still feeling his way."

How he would grade Bryant's first game?

"I would say by the end of the year, we would give this a D or a C," Jackson said. "It was sub-par. He's still in preseason form, I think."

Shaquille O'Neal, who had 28 points, 23 rebounds and four blocked shots despite sitting out the fourth quarter, thought Bryant played well considering it was his first game in seven weeks.

"He got a lot of rust off," O'Neal said. "He did OK. This was his first night in this building. He's going to play a lot better. He's going to be fine."

The Lakers performed a lot better than expected with Bryant on the sidelines, winning 11 of 15 games.

"We did a good job without him; now we expect to do a lot better with him," said Glen Rice, who teams with Bryant and O'Neal to give the Lakers an imposing offensive trio. "He's got an ability to penetrate, get the ball up the floor quickly."

The Lakers (12-4) will get a good idea of where they stand tonight when they face the Portland Trail Blazers (14-3) at the Staples Center.

"Friday's going to be the true test," said O'Neal, the NBA's player of the month in November with averages of 28.7 points, 13.4 rebounds, 3.36 blocked shots and 3.0 assists.

Jackson said Bryant, who came off the bench and played 30 minutes against the Warriors, would not start against Portland.

One area where Bryant clearly needs to improve is defense; he was beaten several times by the Warriors Wednesday in his return to the lineup.

Even so, the Lakers continued to play well defensively, holding their fourth straight opponent to 85 points or less -- the first time they've accomplished that since hold five straight that low in March 1954.

"No one talks about their defense," Warriors coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "They're sixth in points and sixth in field goal percentage, and they don't turn the ball over. So they're going to be there every night to give themselves a chance to win. And they're going to get better offensively."

It takes a while to learn Jackson's triangle offense, and the Lakers seem to have done a good job with that so far.

The way O'Neal has played is going to make any team look good no matter what offense its running.

"I don't know that you can wear him down," Carlesimo said. "Maybe there are some deep, enormously big teams on some other planet that can do that."



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