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Kobe is back but loss to Raptors shows Lakers still have a lot of work to do

Dec 9, 2013, 2:17 AM EDT

Toronto Raptors v Los Angeles Lakers Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Kobe passed the first challenge he has set before himself.

Eight months of never-ending therapy sessions and workouts to return to the court paid off — Kobe is back. He was introduced with Darth Vader’s theme music and Staples Center was buzzing like it was a playoff game. Kobe was on the court with the ball in his hands, particularly in the fourth quarter. It was what the Lakers nation had been waiting to see.

But what they saw wasn’t pretty.

“Right now my form is a horse s— form,” Bryant said bluntly after the game.

Fixing that and getting in sync with his teammates is the next challenge Kobe has to set his mind to.

Kobe said physically he felt right, but he looked understandably very rusty — like a guy who hadn’t played in an NBA game for eight months after Achilles surgery at age 35. Kobe was 2-of-9 shooting with eight turnovers. He led a group Lakers starters that shot 25 percent — not one of them scored in double digits.

Which is why the Lakers fell to the Raptors 106-94 to spoil Kobe’s much anticipated return.

This kind of rough start had to be expected (at least by anyone not seeing the world through purple and gold glasses). Not only was Kobe bound to be rusty but also the Lakers were going from a team where the ball was often in Steve Blake’s hands to one where Kobe controlled the flow of the offense.

“I felt good that I was able to get into the lane…” Kobe said after the loss. “I felt like I could penetrate and turn the corner, which was a big question mark for me. And then once I got in there I didn’t make the proper reads most of the time, but the fact of the matter I was able to get in there. The reads you can improve, the explosiveness you can’t.”

The other Lakers players (particularly the starters) were simply hesitant and guys were passive when Kobe was on the court. It wasn’t so much guys were just watching him (as has been an issue in the past) as much as just the movements in the offense were out of sync.

“We’re all trying to get used to playing with one another,” Lakers starting center Robert Sacre said. “It’s definitely been growing pains. I think we can handle it, nothing we haven’t seen before…

“I think it’s going to take a couple of games and unfortunately it’s not some easy games we’ve got coming down the pipe.”

The Lakers may not have a few games (they play the Suns Tuesday night followed by a four game road trip which includes Oklahoma City). In the deep Western Conference the 10-10 Lakers are the 10 seed and 1.5 games out of the playoffs. While it’s early and that’s not much, they can’t dig a much deeper hole if they plan to climb out of it and make the postseason because other teams are going to step over them. There is little forgiveness for slumps in the West.

Kobe showed some moments where he looked like his old self. For example his first bucket came with a pump fake lefty 10-foot bank with 5:07 left in second that was vintage. Late in the second quarter he used his jab step to create space for an 18-footer he nailed.

But mostly early we saw facilitator Kobe — and that is where the rust and lack of having played with guys through training camp and 19 games to start the season showed. Kobe was turning the ball over, clearly just not used yet to the speed of the NBA game and where the lanes to make passes would appear.

“He was as good as he can be, it’s going to take a while,” coach Mike D’Antoni said, repeating the mantra you heard from anyone in the Lakers locker room. “There’s no way he could do that, I know everybody thought he could but no way he could be out eight months, have no training camp, and come out and be in mid-season form.

“We knew that, which is why we needed the other guys needed to step up around him and we didn’t do that.”

What the Lakers did do was hide Kobe Bryant on defense — he guarded Landry Fields to start and later Steve Novak. He got switched onto DeMar DeRozan a few times and while he got an early steal that way generally that was a good matchup for the Raptors.

There were a lot of good matchups for the Raptors, particularly anyone in white trying to cover Amir Johnson who led Toronto with 32 points on 14-of-17 shooting. Toronto got 60 points in the paint with Johnson muscling his way in and DeRozan slashing his way (26 points). Without Rudy Gay (traded earlier in the day) Toronto moved the ball well and the Lakers had no good answers on that end.

Kobe knows the Lakers need to turn this around quickly. And planning to do his part of that in the most Kobe of ways.

“I couldn’t wait to start watching film and criticizing every little thing and I’ll go home tonight and watching over again, but that’s the exciting part,” Bryant said. “The exciting part is you got a challenge and you got some improvements to make and you sit and you watch them and you break it down and you get ready for the next game and carry it from there.”

It’s the next challenge and Kobe is ready for it. The fact that Kobe was back on the court just 240 days after having his Achilles torn is an accomplishment of a high magnitude. And some were able to really appreciate that.

“It’s my first time playing with Kobe, it’s something I can tell my son,” Shawne Williams said. “It was history to me.”

But Kobe is not one to dwell on history. He wants the next mountain to climb.

  1. maddogg911 - Dec 9, 2013 at 2:26 AM

    It’s going to be a work in progress; but there is no reason the lakers should not make the playoffs. With a few lucky bounces here and there we can make some noise

    • asimonetti88 - Dec 9, 2013 at 11:06 AM

      We need to not let guys like Amir Johnson score 32 points on us if we want to do that (no offense to Amir)

      • 00maltliquor - Dec 9, 2013 at 12:24 PM

        You know how the Lakers do. It’s been like that forever, always letting one nobody turn into an All-Star for the night. No matter who we have on the team, no matter who coaches.

      • asimonetti88 - Dec 9, 2013 at 12:30 PM

        It’s usually point guards though

    • antistratfordian - Dec 9, 2013 at 3:40 PM

      There are currently more reasons why they should miss the playoffs than not. But obviously things can change in the coming months, to wit: it seems like just yesterday we were reading “Lakers’ win streak sparked by improving defense” articles. But, alas, their defense has since weakened and their offense isn’t doing any better.

      Chubby Kobe is probably not going to improve the defensive numbers much on this particular team.

      • musician0785 - Dec 9, 2013 at 5:14 PM

        chubby kobe? boy you’re trying hard….not hard enough tho…..TROLL

      • antistratfordian - Dec 9, 2013 at 5:33 PM

        I’m just repeating what Kobe has already said in this regard.

      • musician0785 - Dec 9, 2013 at 5:19 PM

        and please point me to the article where it said the lakers were winning because of defense and not the fact that they have the highest scoring bench in the league or are 3rd in 3pt fg%

      • antistratfordian - Dec 9, 2013 at 5:34 PM

        ESPN LA: Lakers’ win streak sparked by improving defense

        http://espn.go.com/blog/los-angeles/lakers/post/_/id/37916/lakers-win-streak-sparked-by-improving-defense

        PBT: You may not believe this, but a D’Antoni team is winning with defense

        http://probasketballtalk.nbcsports.com/2013/11/25/the-extra-pass-you-may-not-believe-this-but-a-mike-dantoni-team-is-winning-with-defense/

        Official Lakers Blog: LAL Stepping Up On Defense

        http://blog.lakers.com/lakers/2013/11/25/lal-stepping-up-on-defense/

      • mytthor - Dec 10, 2013 at 10:24 PM

        Well sure, but can you find FOUR such articles?

      • musician0785 - Dec 11, 2013 at 12:32 PM

        So lemme get this straight….you think a .500 team with an 18th ranked defense, and the highest bench in the league is winning because if that 18th ranked defense, because of a sample size of 6 games? HAHAHAHAHA ok you go head with that theory….

      • antistratfordian - Dec 11, 2013 at 4:23 PM

        You need to slow down, go back and read more carefully.

        I am not the one who said the Lakers were winning because of defense – that was ESPN LA, PBT and the Lakers Blog. And they said that back when the Lakers defense was ranked 11th.

        But the Lakers are now ranked 23rd on defense, and 17th on offense. That was the whole point of my “There are currently more reasons why they should miss the playoffs than not” comment – it’s going to be hard for them to make the playoffs in the West with those types of ratings.

  2. lakerade - Dec 9, 2013 at 2:40 AM

    Kobe does bring with him some expectation of results, doesn’t he? This game felt different, not just from his presence but what it might mean for a season that was up until tonight a throwaway campaign of sorts. I like it.

  3. nba12thman - Dec 9, 2013 at 2:57 AM

    He looked unusually nervous and tried a little to hard but there were positive signs. Will be solid once he finds rhythym and hopefully he sticks with this passing Kobe. If he does, I have them making the playoffs.

  4. kinglorious - Dec 9, 2013 at 5:16 AM

    As a Lakers fan it was great to see him out there. Hes the last bright spot before we enter into the “dark ages” of the Franchise.

  5. shanelsweet - Dec 9, 2013 at 8:46 AM

    “He led a group Lakers starters that shot 25 percent — not one of them scored in double digits” Welcome to the new look Lakers.

  6. omniusprime - Dec 9, 2013 at 8:52 AM

    Kobe was pathetically rusty last night. Only sports pundit morons like Kurt Helin believe that these grossly overpaid pro athletes deserve making too many millions. Sorry Kurt Kobe filling the overpriced seats won’t win championships, but winning championships will fill the seats. Kobe isn’t playing his last two years to win another ring, just to line his pockets and that’s bad for us Laker fans. Kobe was great in his day, but his heyday is over.

    Talking about heydays that are over it’s a shame that the Lakers aren’t intelligent enough to dump their garbage, Trash Nash, before it’s too late. Trash Nash is worthless and only hanging on to collect an oversized paycheck he never deserved or earned.

    Then there’s the most ignorant coach in the NBA, Dumbtoni, who’s still hanging around ruining any chance the Lakers have of winning a championship. This clown has no clue about flow of the game or who to play when. Dumbtoni is the albatross around the Laker’s neck that will keep the Lakers pathetic until he is gone and we get a much better coach.

    Sure is funny that the Laker’s bench is so good this year, while the starting 5 are so pathetic. A shame when we had a great starting 5 we didn’t have a bench.

    • mytthor - Dec 10, 2013 at 10:28 PM

      You are just a ****ing moron. Hard to pick out what to reply to in your post, but let’s start with basic lack of knowledge of NBA business matters. IE, the reason players like Kobe can’t be overpaid is what they’re worth to their franchise, simply monetarily. Also that the Lakers can’t just “dump” Nash. This isn’t the NFL where you can cut a guy and only have to pay his signing bonus. Cutting him benefits them basically not at all. They can’t use that money elsewhere.

  7. ocgunslinger - Dec 9, 2013 at 9:50 AM

    Now let’s take a look at the Lakers in a month. Might be too late but you will know then how this year and next year will look like.

  8. teedraper - Dec 9, 2013 at 10:11 AM

    It doesn’t show anything idiot. Everyone has known this going into the season. What a hack you are Helin.

  9. illogic87 - Dec 9, 2013 at 12:40 PM

    lolakers

  10. antistratfordian - Dec 9, 2013 at 3:15 PM

    Why isn’t anyone talking about how overweight and out of shape Kobe looked?

    • asimonetti88 - Dec 9, 2013 at 3:45 PM

      Wait… so in his first game in over 8 months coming back from a major injury, he wasn’t in immediate game shape? Breaking news, stay tuned, next stratford will let us know about a crazy new fad called the jitterbug.

      • antistratfordian - Dec 9, 2013 at 4:21 PM

        Eh. 2/10.

        It’s a little worse than just being out of game shape. Kobe said previously that he let himself go, calling himself a “fat a__” – he wasn’t kidding. This is probably the heaviest we’ve seen him in 8 years.

        I’m a little surprised that he didn’t wait to get into better shape to come back. Running around with 20 extra pounds does not seem like the best idea for his old, battered legs.

        Rose returned with 10 extra pounds on him…

      • musician0785 - Dec 9, 2013 at 5:17 PM

        rose returned with 10 extra pounds of MUSCLE, not quite the same thing as eating twinkies all day….TROLL

        “I know it’s going to be something good. With all this hard work I’ve been putting into my game, I’m doing stuff I never did before. I gained 10, 11 pounds of muscle. I don’t know what type of player I’m going to be. I just know that I’m going to be very good.”

        http://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/nba/bulls/2013/02/12/derrick-rose-knee-injury-return-chicago-bulls/1912521/

      • mytthor - Dec 10, 2013 at 10:30 PM

        Antistratfordian…does it ever bother you that the vast majority of response you get on this message board is negative? Ever think maybe that’s because you’re wrong?

  11. JHathwell - Dec 9, 2013 at 3:35 PM

    It’ll take some time to re-adjust but I think Kobe is gonna excel post-injury. Simply put, he’s too skilled not to, and since he’s been relying less and less on athleticism in recent years it’s an easy transition.

    I thought the new body was interesting as well. Something tells me he’s going to play more 3 from here on out. His game is likely to start morphing into Paul Pierce territory.

  12. bravecapeproductions - Dec 9, 2013 at 3:49 PM

    Kobe did JUST FINE!!! Even for somebody who is one of the best ever this is still his first game in 7 months.(as everybody reading this already knows.) Give him at least 5 or 10 games. Mamba will be back!!!

  13. ranfan12 - Dec 9, 2013 at 6:51 PM

    Wow, that’s one of the most unflattering images lol

  14. taus831 - Dec 10, 2013 at 12:14 AM

    It just shows that their no such thing as “Lakers Fan” they were Kobe Fans all along, for the past 18 years. I notice that the attendance were down and for the first time the ticket prices were dropping. His marketing value may be $20 million, but watching him play last night, FG: 22% (2-9) & 8-Turnovers in 28-minutes. I don’t know how much his game will improve and even if it does, he is not going to be the same double/triple team threat. You now just need one good defender to guard him. Loved watching him play but LeBron is a Monster and KD will fly or shoot over Kobe.

    • mytthor - Dec 10, 2013 at 10:31 PM

      There’s no such thing as a Lakers Fan? So how do you explain The 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s? Just waiting for Kobe to arrive? Nice that we got treated to so many championships. You know, as an appetizer.

    • musician0785 - Dec 11, 2013 at 4:45 PM

      All you paragraph showed us is just how dumb you really are how can you notice attendance IS down through 20 games? you didnt think he would play much better and then lase night he goes 6-11 with 3 to……shows how much we should value what you “think”

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