Lakers lay out solid blueprint to accommodate Kobe Bryant’s return

SACRAMENTO – As he tried to clean up the Lakers’ mess scattered with endless injuries, swift coaching changes and endless bickering, Kobe Bryant resorted to a few tenets that define both his talent and thirst for greatness.

His new-found athleticism stemmed from diet and overseas procedures helped Bryant dunk as if he was in his prime. Bryant’s fundamentally sound game ensured he remained proficient both in scoring and facilitating. His unyielding competitiveness ensured the Lakers underachieving championship caliber roster at least saved face with a playoff appearance.

But just when it seemed nothing could stop Bryant from lifting the Lakers on his own, everything did. He suffered a torn left Achilles April 12 against the Golden State Warriors, an injury that both shattered the Lakers’ playoff hopes and created an uncertain future. Yet, with Bryant’s return when the Lakers host the Toronto Raptors Sunday at Staples Center marking the end of this eight-month rehab, the Lakers have vowed to provide a more dependable supporting cast than the one Bryant carried last year.

As the Lakers demonstrated in their 106-100 victory Friday over the Sacramento Kings at Sleep Train Arena, that supporting cast showcased a wide-cast of characters.

“Every night,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said, “somebody comes up big.”

Or in this case, everybody comes up big.

Lakers guard Jodie Meeks posted a team-leading 19 points on 7 of 11 shooting including a pair of timely jumpers late in the game in what could be his last game starting at shooting guard. Lakers forward Pau Gasol offset his 19 points on a 6 of 15 clip with a 20-foot jumper at the top of the key that gave the Lakers a 98-97 lead with 1:18 left. Lakers forward Nick Young scored a bench-leading 14 points, including a 20-foot jumper that sealed a 103-97 edge with 30.1 seconds remaining. Lakers forward Wesley Johnson made both a block and a steal.

“It’s been really fun so far,” Gasol said. “The guys give it their all. They don’t think about individual play or individual performances. No one cares about getting more credit. Everybody gives it their best and everyone appreciates it.”

Even when things don’t go as planned.

The Lakers conceded an endless flurry of 3-pointers (9 of 21), open looks for Ben McClemore (20 points on 8-of-17 shooting) and Isaiah Thomas (14 points on 6-of-13 shooting). It also didn’t help the Lakers went on a five-minute stretch midway through the fourth quarter recording one field goal. Or that Johnson committed two turnovers.

But the Lakers kept fighting.

“It’s my will to win and willingness to keep competing,” Johnson said. “Everyone in this locker room has a huge heart and really wants to win. No one holds their head when they make a run. Everyone knows it’s a game of runs. We just buckle down and switch everything down in our favor.”

That played out in more ways.

In his first start this season at center, Robert Sacre overcame three first-half fouls by posting 11 points on 5 of 7 shooting and making Kings center DeMarcus Cousins work for his 20 points on only a six of 17 clip. D’Antoni then featured Jordan Hill off the bench in hopes shortened playing time would offset his recent fatigue. He responded by posting seven of his nine rebounds in the second half through 14 minutes.

“A lot of teams don’t know how to scout us,” Sacre said. “It’ll make it difficult where teams we can’t lock on one player because another player is doing well. You never know who the guy will be that night.”

The scouting report will soon zero in on Bryant, obviously.

But as the Lakers learned painfully last season, a prolific Bryant can’t solely carry them.

“They don’t need to stand around and watch him play,” D’Antoni said. “We can’t watch and sit around and think he’s a savior. We have to keep competing like we have been.”

The scouting report will soon zero in on Bryant, obviously.

But as the Lakers learned painfully last season, a prolific Bryant can’t solely carry them.

“They don’t need to stand around and watch him play,” D’Antoni said. “We can’t watch and sit around and think he’s a savior. We have to keep competing like we have been.”

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Kobe Bryant announces he’s returning Sunday vs. Toronto

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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