Skip to content

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.

Latest Posts
  1. Wednesday NBA grades: Kevin Durant ends season exactly like you think he would

    Apr 17, 2014, 2:10 AM EDT

    Kevin Durant Kevin Durant

    On the season Kevin Durant averaged 32 points, seven rebounds and five assists a game. Not too shabby.

  2. Kevin Durant’s game-winning dunk clinches two seed for Thunder (VIDEO)

    Apr 16, 2014, 11:31 PM EDT

    Oklahoma City Thunder v Atlanta Hawks Getty Images

    Kevin Durant was simply unstoppable with the game on the line against the Pistons.

  3. Finally the NBA playoff match ups are set

    Apr 16, 2014, 11:00 PM EDT

    Miami Heat Victory Parade And Rally Getty Images

    The West is loaded with great series: Thunder vs. Grizzlies, Clippers vs. Warriors, Rockets vs. Blazers.

  4. Wagers on season win totals still undecided for four teams heading into final night of NBA season

    Apr 16, 2014, 10:31 PM EDT

    Vegas nailed the lines for season win totals for four NBA teams almost exactly.

  5. NBA announces preliminary schedule for Game 1 of the playoffs

    Apr 16, 2014, 9:14 PM EDT

    Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs - Game Two Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs - Game Two

    The matchups aren’t all set, but this gives us an idea of who plays when as the playoffs open this weekend.

  6. Knicks announce signing of Lamar Odom for remainder of the season

    Apr 16, 2014, 7:48 PM EDT

    odom phil Getty Images

    Knicks make it official and announce they’ve signed Lamar Odom for the remainder of the season.

  7. PBT Extra: Giving out MVP, end of season awards

    Apr 16, 2014, 6:59 PM EDT

    Oklahoma City Thunder vs Miami Heat Getty Images

    Durant and LeBron at the top of the MVP ballot is easy, it’s filling out spots 3-5 that is the challenge.

  8. New Bucks owners say all the right things, that they are committed to Milwaukee

    Apr 16, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT

    Herb Kohl Herb Kohl

    Kohl is going to pitch in $100 million to get a new arena built in Milwaukee.

  9. Arizona State’s Jahii Carson officially declares for NBA Draft

    Apr 16, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT

    Arizona St v Texas Getty Images

    Teams will like his speed, but he’s destined for a second round pick.

  10. Report: Kobe Bryant already vacationing in France as Lakers end ugly season

    Apr 16, 2014, 4:29 PM EDT

    Kobe Bryant

    While the Lakers end their dreary season Kobe Bryant is already on vacation.

  11. Blake Griffin would vote yes on NBA allowing medical marijuana use

    Apr 16, 2014, 3:46 PM EDT

    Blake Griffin AP

    Clippers forward: ‘It doesn’t really affect me, but so many guys would probably benefit’

  12. Mavericks, Grizzlies both motivated to win Wednesday, avoid Spurs in first round

    Apr 16, 2014, 2:49 PM EDT

    Memphis Grizzlies v San Antonio Spurs - Game One Getty Images

    The Spurs have crushed the Grizzlies and Mavericks this season, so those teams are motivated to avoid a trip to the Riverwalk to start the postseason.

  13. 2014 PBT Awards: All-Rookie team

    Apr 16, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT

    Tim Hardaway, Mason Plumlee Tim Hardaway, Mason Plumlee

    First team nearly a clean sweep, but one top teamer didn’t even make other two ballots

Featured video

Woodson, D'Antoni's coaching futures
Top 10 NBA Player Searches
  1. D. Williams (4206)
  2. K. Love (4198)
  3. D. Wade (4134)
  4. L. James (3812)
  5. G. Dragic (3700)
  1. S. Curry (3692)
  2. R. Rondo (3398)
  3. C. Anthony (3389)
  4. D. Howard (3237)
  5. R. Westbrook (3165)