Kurt Rambis was supposed to be the story, specifically his return to Staples Center to take on the franchise he helped guide to three championships this decade.
Then Kobe Bryant hurt his finger, the Lakers struggled in the first half against the underwhelming Minnesota Timberwolves and all the envisioned story lines were eradicated.
Bryant sustained an avulsion fracture in the index finger of his right hand but kept playing. The Lakers sustained a case of not taking the Timberwolves seriously but also kept playing on Friday, eventually winning their 11th consecutive game, 104-92.
An avulsion fracture occurs when a small fragment of bone is pulled off by a tendon, which apparently happened when Bryant took a slightly off-target entry pass from Jordan Farmar late in the first quarter.
He left briefly and returned for the start of the second quarter . . . sort of. He took one shot, passed the ball only with his left hand, and left near the quarter's midpoint for X-rays down the hall from the locker room.
He started the third quarter with a splint on the finger -- "something foamy," he said -- and made four of 11 shots in the second half, including a six-foot jump hook, left-handed, in the fourth quarter.
He looked fine on defense and finished with 20 points, five rebounds and five assists. He made eight of 18 shots. Pau Gasol had 17 points and a career-high 20 rebounds.
"You just get used to it," Bryant said of his finger. "It's just a different technique to shoot the ball."
Bryant has experience with avulsion fractures, suffering one in February 2008 in his right pinkie. He did not miss any time with it but reported feeling pain whenever the finger was directly hit. Bryant also had a torn ligament in the pinkie, which was likely more responsible for the pain.
This avulsion fracture is different primarily because of its location on the index finger.
"It's not something I can avoid," Bryant said. "The other one was on the knuckle of the [pinkie]."
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said Bryant "was fine."
"You could tell he [initially] didn't want to touch the ball with that hand, and then he went in and got some X-rays, came back out and I thought played well in the second half," he said.
Despite the apparent mismatch, the Lakers (18-3) were concerned about the Timberwolves (3-20). Assistant coach Brian Shaw even wrote on the locker-room whiteboard, "Don't pay attention to the standings."
The Timberwolves wouldn't roll over in the first half, packing the lane on defense and forcing the Lakers to take outside shots. The Lakers had a slender 56-54 lead at halftime but pulled away, as expected, their defense limiting the Timberwolves to 14 third-quarter points.
"I think that they are very driven to do it again," Rambis said. "This Laker team learned an awful lot from their experience of getting blown out by the Celtics. They came back with a completely different mind-set last season and it propelled them to the NBA championship. I see that again, if not more so."
The game ended the Lakers' unbelievably friendly early-season schedule, which featured 17 of their first 21 games at home.
They now play five consecutive games on the road, including a rematch tonight with Utah three days after the Jazz scored only six points in the fourth quarter of a humbling 101-77 loss at Staples Center.
"They'll be ready," forward Lamar Odom said.