LOS ANGELES -- The Staples Center scoreboard, bearer of deliriously exciting news to Lakers fans in 2010 (Game 7 NBA Finals: Lakers 83, Boston 79) and 2006 (Kobe Bryant: 81 points), delivered a more somber dose of reality Tuesday.
The malfunctioning monolith crashed in the first quarter and showed a bunch of zeroes where player stats were usually displayed.
Made sense. Perfect metaphor for the Lakers' herky-jerky resumption of life since Bryant came back from a torn Achilles' tendon.
The Lakers are 0-2 since his return and scoring 21 points fewer per 100 possessions with Bryant on the court than without him, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
Exciting to the participants? No.
Steve Blake wished the Lakers could do training camp all over again. Nick Young admonished himself and his teammates, saying they shouldn't stand around and watch Bryant.
Coach Mike D'Antoni pledged patience, knowing the Lakers were a harmonious 10-9 without Bryant but also lacked a true closer.
Now they have one. If he can stay healthy.
Bryant stumbled over a TV camera cable while heading into the postgame interview room after the Lakers' 114-108 loss to Phoenix on Tuesday. He mumbled under his breath how that would have been an interesting story.
The highlight of Bryant's night was a baseline dunk in the first quarter. It wasn't the high-velocity, high-vertical type.
"I didn't know if I was going to make it above the rim or not but I figured I would just try," Bryant said.
He made it.
His stats calmed down Tuesday against Phoenix (20 points, six-for-11 shooting, three assists and three turnovers) after a horrid season debut against Toronto (nine points, two-for-nine shooting, four assists and eight turnovers).
Bryant stayed away from the top of the key against Phoenix, deferring to teammates for the most part because he didn't feel quick enough to drive.
"We have guys that are more than capable of handling those responsibilities," he said, mentioning Young, Blake and Xavier Henry. "Let them handle the ball and I'll be the screener and roller and put pressure on the defense that way, operating a little bit more close to the basket.
"It's part of the evolution. It's figuring out what we have and how to adjust around that, and then looking personally at what I can do and what I should be doing."
The Lakers are a mess defensively, which isn't Bryant's problem. They somehow gave up 76 points in the paint to Detroit two weeks ago and surrendered 56 points in the paint to the Suns, who were 17th in the league before Tuesday at 40.3 per game.
A lot of this is on Pau Gasol, who spoke in generalities after Tuesday's loss.
"It starts from an individual but the team defense has to be able to cover up certain individual mistakes or breakdowns," he said, more or less blaming penetration by point guards.
Regardless, Gasol felt the sting of the last few days.
"I was expecting to get two wins here," he said, "And we got two losses."
(Los Angeles Times correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.)
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