Kobe Bryant returned to practice this week for the Los Angeles Lakers, and it is only a matter of time until he is fully healed from his torn Achilles tendon.
Until then, coach Mike D'Antoni will continue to mix and match his rotation, but it seems that he has finally found a unit that works.
Ten players have already started for Los Angeles but it's had the same starting five in the last four games, and that group is expected to be on the floor again Friday night against the visiting Golden State Warriors.
Among the new starters is forward Jordan Hill, who joined the lineup Nov. 12 after coming off the bench for the first eight games. Hill set career highs with 24 points and 17 rebounds in a 114-99 victory over Detroit on Sunday.
"(Jordan's) playing at an All-Star level," D'Antoni said. "What he's doing is remarkable. There's no reason why he can't keep that up."
Hill is averaging 18.8 points and 12.0 rebounds while shooting 61.7 percent since joining the starting five.
"I get more confidence every time I step on the floor," Hill said. "We don't have Steve Nash. We don't have Kobe. We've got guys that we know have to step up. We're banding together as a team."
Nash has missed five of the past six games because of back and hamstring injuries, pushing Steve Blake into the role of the team's primary ball-handler and distributor. Blake had 16 assists against the Pistons, and five Lakers scored in double figures.
"It's going to take that type of effort to win games," said center Pau Gasol, who had 12 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. "We need everybody to chip in and play well."
The biggest issue for the Lakers (5-7) has been defense. Opponents average 103.8 points, and the Warriors posted a 125-94 home win over Los Angeles on Oct. 30 - the most points the Lakers allowed this season.
Golden State (8-4) had a four-game winning streak come to an end with Wednesday's 88-81 loss to visiting Memphis in overtime. Guard Stephen Curry missed the game because of what the team called a "mild concussion," and his status for Friday is unknown.
"Obviously he's a big-time player and not having him hurts us," coach Mark Jackson said. "Next guy stands up and we are a no-excuse basketball team and I thought my guys gave a great effort. They defended, battled and we fell short."
If Curry cannot play, the Warriors will look for better production from Andre Iguodala after he shot 3 of 14 and scored seven points against the Grizzlies.
"I felt really good," Iguodala said. "A few were short but a few were just right there. ... I've just got to go into it and take the shots, not second guess."
Golden State guard Klay Thompson will also be asked to pick up the scoring slack if Curry misses another game. When these teams met last month, Thompson scored a career-high 38 points on 15-of-19 shooting.
That matchup was at home, where Thompson is averaging 25.3 points compared to 15.8 on the road. The third-year player has put up 18.0 per game in four career road contests against the Lakers.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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