Before Kobe Bryant can become the Lakers’ savior it appears some short-term growing pains will have to place.
Such as resorting back toward figuring out the team’s identity nearly a 1/4 into the season.
The Lakers (10-10) will field what will be their ninth different starting lineup combination when they host the Phoenix Suns (11-9) tonight at Staples Center, which will include Steve Blake (point guard), Jodie Meeks (shooting guard), Kobe Bryant (small forward), Shawne Williams (power forward) and Pau Gasol (center).
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni believes Williams’ presence, in particular, will come in handy to defend Suns forward Channing Frye, who has averaged 10.4 points on 46.5 percent shooting and a 39.3 percent mark from 3-point range. Bryant will also play defense at the small forward position.
“The reasoning would be is we need to get more speed in there,” D’Antoni said. “Until Kobe gets his legs and everything else, we need to spread the floor and make it easier on everybody and get some legs.”
The move also ends Robert Sacre’s two-game stint as the Lakers’ starting center where provided a mixed bag in a win against Sacramento (11 points on 5 of 7 shooting, five rebounds and two blocks) and a loss to Toronto (two points on 1 of 3 shooting, one rebound). D’Antoni said both Sacre and Lakers forward Jordan Hill will compete for minutes in the frontcourt.
“It’s going to be tougher,” D’Antoni said. “Some guys will have to sacrifice a little bit. We’ll go game to game and figure out the minutes and see how we are. We’re back to square one with the best combinations with Kobe in the lineup, what works and who plays better. IT’ll take a few games to sort that out. In the meantime, we need to win and we need to play hard. If we do that, it’ll take acre of itself.”
When Bryant played in his first game Sunday against Toronto since shattering his left Achilles tendon eight months ago, he became the 12th different player to start a game this season. The Lakers went 6-4 with their lineup featuring Hill, Gasol, Wesley Johnson, Meeks and Blake. The seven other combinations only played out for one or two games partly because of Steve Nash’s ongoing back injury. It also highlighted D’Antoni’s ongoing quest to maximize his assorted roster of castoffs.
“We’re used to lineup changes right now,” Blake said. “The offense is still the same. Guys’ strengths and weaknesses are a little different and we’re always adjusting on the court and on the fly with that. I think we’ll be fine. We’re good at adjusting to that kind of stuff.”
The Lakers hardly adjusted well to Bryant’s return in their loss Sunday to Toronto.
They committed 19 turnovers, including eight from Bryant and four from Blake. The Lakers’ starters all scored in single digits, while the Lakers’ bench all cracked double figures. Gasol also posted only seven points on 3 of 11 shooting partly because of a sprained right ankle.
“He’ll play through it. He’ll get better,” D’Antoni said. “The pain will go away. Then he’ll be back. We have to him back as soon as we can. We’re not going to win with Kobe coming back and Pau struggling a ltitle bit. We have to get them both back up to a great level.”
It also didn’t help the Lakers allowed Amir Johnson to a post a season-high 32 points on 14 of 17 shooting. Plenty of other opponents have put together season-high efforts against the Lakers, including New Orleans Anthony Davis, Denver’s Timofey Mozgov and Memphis’ Zach Randolph.
“It bothers me a lot,” D’Antoni said. “Our defense is fairly good, but it could walys be better. In the paint, we’re awful. We have to get tougher and get stronger there. It’s a combination of things, turning the ball over, running back on defense and once we get down there we have to defend the paint better. If we want to be a good team and want to get better, that’s definitely a point of emphasis.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org