Kobe Bryant, who is older than hell, crankier than hell, and shackled to a misshapen Lakers team, looked better than he has in years tonight as his Lakers fell to the Timberwolves at home 112-111. This game was stuffed full of cool shit: the two teams’ tribute to the recently passed Flip Saunders; Nick Young hitting a half-court leaner to end the first quarter; the debuts of Karl-Anthony Towns, Julius Randle (his 14 minutes last season don’t count), and D’Angelo Russell; Kevin Garnett yapping at people; and Ricky Rubio dropping 28 points and 14 assists. But most of all, there was Kobe.

Not only did he wheeze and grind his way to 24 points, he looked something like his old self getting there. There was something comforting about seeing Kobe twist into ill-advised leaners and pump fake defenders into the sky. The injuries that have hampered him for two years never seemed to hold him back. He wasn’t an anachronism or anything, he simply looked smooth.

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Of course, he also took his share of shots that would make Dion Waiters blush. The Lakers ran plenty of Kobe isolations, and yet there he was, making a crucial assist to bring the Lakers within one with 40 seconds left. He operates nearly the same way he did when he was an MVP candidate, he’s just not as sharp. But the Lakers aren’t really trying to win this season anyway.

They have a coterie of promising, young players who need shots and opportunities to get better, and yet their 37-year old ballhog of a talisman is still out here taking almost twice as many shots as anyone else. It’s slightly concerning, sure, that Jordan Clarkson, Randle, and Russell have someone who will take shots away from them, but at least it’s not for too many minutes a night, supposedly. If anything, Kobe could help them hang around in more close games like the one tonight.

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So, despite a somewhat rejuvenated Kobe, the Lakers will be butt. They don’t have the depth or balance needed to fight for a playoff spot. But if Kobe stays healthy and remains patient with his young teammates, they’ll at least be worth watching. That means nothing to the team, but it’s quite impressive for a Byron Scott team that won 21 games last year.

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