LOS ANGELES – As Los Angeles Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni stated before Sunday’s 106-94 loss to the Toronto Raptors, it is indeed going to be a bit of an adjustment period with Kobe Bryant now back in the fold.
The Laker began the game on 2-0f-8 shooting which a short-handed Raptors team, who just prior to the game traded forward Rudy Gay and two other players to the Sacramento Kings, took advantage of the poor shooting effort by racing out to 15-4 lead that was as much as a 13 point the first quarter.
As for Bryant, in his first game since tearing his left Achilles tendon eight months ago, it was a rough start for him as his first shot attempt was an airball on a six-foot right-handed hook shot across the lane and he finished the first quarter by going 0-for-2 with 0 points, two assists, and one steal.
Los Angeles was able to it around in the second quarter as they were able to narrow the deficit to four points at halftime trailing 51-47 behind 50 percent shooting in the quarter. Bryant in the quarter was more efficient as he scored his made his first field goal of the game at the 5:13 mark in the second quarter on his second his second attempt of the game, and was 2-0f-3 from the field for five points, grabbed four rebounds and dissed out one assist.
The Raptors in the first half were lead by Amir Johnson, who scored 23 of his career-high 32 points to help give his team a lead that they would never reliquish.
They were unable to use that momentum at the start of the second half as they allowed Toronto to go on a 12-3 run that increase their lead to 13 points. And despite once again cutting the deficit to four points by finishing the quarter on a 10-1 run that included five Nick Young’s team-high 19 points, the story was the same as they allowed the Raptors to balloon their fourth quarter lead 10 points. The Lakers were never able to get closer than four points as Toronto had a response for every run they made.
Despite losing the game, the most important thing to take away was the play of Bryant, who appeared to be rusty as expected on Sunday night, especially in the second half as he was not effective as he went 0-for-4 from the field with 4 points and committed five of his game-high eight turnovers,
But with that said, this is part of the transition back to the court and Bryant knows that it is going to take some time work out the kinks.
“You just got to work through it,” Bryant said, who had nine points, eight rebounds, four assists, two steals and eight turnovers in 28 minutes played. “Practice is different because I know my teammates. I have been watching them and watching them. I know what their speed is and how to adjust to what they do. (And) against these teams the magic is trying to find out how to adjust to what’s going on (the court) on the fly. That requires rhythm. That requires being on the same page as your guys, in terms of pinpoint passes and things of that nature. It’s going to take a little time, hopefully sooner than later, like Tuesday.”
Xavier Henry echoed those same sentiments although the Lakers fell back to a .500 record on Sunday, as he knows that his team will have to adjust will Bryant on the floor.
“We came out a little slow. We do that sometimes ” Henry said, who had 17 points and two assists in 14 minutes played. “We just had to fight back. It was to have Kobe with us. To have him come down the floor with us. We’re going to have to work on some things now, but it was a good for a first game. I’m glad he [Bryant] did alright.”
First Unit Struggles
Beside Bryant returning for his first game in over eight months, the most telling part of Sunday’s loss was play of the first unit with the 35-year-old inserted back into the starting lineup in place of Meeks. They seemed to be lacking cohesion and familiarity on the floor with the 15-time All-Star as evident by none of the starters scoring in double figures.
“Having Kobe back we were going to have to find out different solutions and work some things out,” D’Antoni said. “There is always that possibility that the flow is disrupted and you don’t play well. We didn’t play well obviously. It’s going to be a little work in progress here and we are going to have to get going.”
There were several plays during the game where it was apparent that Bryant lacked on-court chemistry with his teammates as he made errant passes, which a few of them contributed to his eight turnovers in the game. But nonetheless, Bryant stated these are things that they will have to work through and will get better with through time.
“Honestly it’s more me adjusting, I just got get used to timing and speed of the game, and where the lanes are how quickly they close down,” Bryant said. “(I just got to) get them the ball in the right spot. It was a couple of times, a bunch of times, where we were just out of sync. I am throwing the ball to a certain spot, but they’re shaking up or staying spaced. It’s just getting used to that rhythm. The adjustment for me really is to deliver the ball in the areas that they can be effective in the right spots.”
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