Dec 9, 2013, 2:17 AM EDT
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.
Aug 31, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT
Charlie Westbrook reportedly signs with Bucks
Aug 31, 2015, 6:15 PM EDT
The Clippers add more depth. It’s been a good offseason for Doc Rivers.
Aug 31, 2015, 5:35 PM EDT
He is a very good pick-and-roll guard with great court vision.
Aug 31, 2015, 5:02 PM EDT
The Suns have no leverage now even if they wanted to move him, and apparently they don’t.
Aug 31, 2015, 4:25 PM EDT
You don’t even need to pump up his sneakers
Aug 31, 2015, 3:27 PM EDT
Cleveland can watch Pointer develop without having to pay him
Aug 31, 2015, 2:26 PM EDT
Mike Clarkson says son committed to Lakers
Aug 31, 2015, 1:33 PM EDT
Don’t expect him to make the regular-season roster this season
Aug 31, 2015, 12:43 PM EDT
Could Lakers wing play in the 2016 Olympics?
Report: Tristan Thompson won’t accept less than max from Cavaliers, his agent thinks Raptors will offer it next summer
Aug 31, 2015, 11:43 AM EDT
Thompson might leverage the max from Cleveland, but it probably shouldn’t be because of this Toronto threat
Aug 31, 2015, 10:26 AM EDT
By dropping an NBA draft pick, Canadians show how far they’ve come
Aug 31, 2015, 9:30 AM EDT
Utah now has 20 players
Aug 31, 2015, 8:30 AM EDT
This would have been fun to attend.
Aug 31, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
He’s a long shot to make a roster.
Aug 30, 2015, 10:16 PM EDT
Al-Farouq Aminu is headed back to the Olympics.
Aug 30, 2015, 9:39 PM EDT
There is no signed deal yet.
Aug 30, 2015, 9:02 PM EDT
Shaq said Phil Jackson was fair with them.
Aug 30, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
We’ll all look back at the McCallum trade and say “it’s the Spurs doing Spurs things again.”
Aug 30, 2015, 5:00 PM EDT
He will be missed.
Aug 30, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
Can Johnson take on the backup point guard role if Chalmers was moved?
- Report: Veteran forward Chuck Hayes agrees to deal with Clippers 2
- Report: Lakers to sign Brazilian, FC Barcelona point guard Marcelo Huertas to one-year deal 3
- Shaq to Kobe on podcast: “I just want people to know that I don’t hate you” 19
- D’Angelo Russell on Tracy McGrady tweet: “Some Lakers fans are spoiled” 27
- Anthony Davis “definitely” plans on shooting more threes this season 4
- Jim Buss defends Byron Scott as Lakers coach, “He has the Laker blood in him” 24
- Jim Buss open to the idea of Kobe Bryant playing beyond this season 32
- Derrick Rose on sexual assault suit: “I am confident I will be proven innocent” 4