Toronto Raptors v Los Angeles Lakers

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


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.

Report: Lakers were fined over Magic Johnson’s tweets

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 15:  Earvin 'Magic' Johnson attends game one of the National League Championship Series between the Chicago Cubs and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Wrigley Field on October 15, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
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Last May, Magic Johnson tweeted that the Lakers chase LeBron James, Kevin Durant and DeMar DeRozan in free agency. All three players were still under contract with their teams until July 1.

In response to that apparent tampering, the Lakers announced Johnson had asked the team to remove his title of Vice President.

Too little, too late.

William Weinbaum and Steve Delsohn of ESPN:

Outside the Lines learned this week — and confirmed with a senior Lakers official — that the NBA fined the team over Johnson’s communiques about players under contract to other teams.

If Drake got the Raptors fined for tampering by pitching Durant during a concert, the Lakers deserved this fine.

Report: LeBron James unhappy Tristan Thompson is dating Khloe Kardashian

FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2016, file photo, Khloe Kardashian participates in the panel for "Kocktails with Khloe" at the FYI 2016 Winter TCA in Pasadena, Calif. Kardashian is calling her sister's robbery on Oct. 3, in Paris "a wake up call for everybody" but is pushing back against criticism that Kim Kardashian West had been too public in displaying her wealth. (Photo by Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP, File)
Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Tristan Thompson and Khloe Kardashian are dating. There are mixed reports about whether they’re engaged.

No matter their exact terms of their relationship, it brings increased attention to the Cavaliers – who are already in the spotlight as LeBron James‘ team and the defending NBA champions.

LeBron might not welcome increased scrutiny.

Gabriella Ginsberg of Hollywood Life:

LeBron James hasn’t been happy that Tristan Thompson is dating drama magnet Khloe Kardashian, and we hear that the teammates had a locker room showdown before the Cavs’ home opener game.

“Tristan isn’t taking any crap from his teammates anymore. As far as he’s concerned, Khloe’s coming to every damn game she chooses,” the insider reveals. “Tristan told LeBron straight up before last night’s game that Khloe was coming and that was that.”

There’s nothing wrong with LeBron, as a friend, advising Thompson about his personal life. They share an agent, Rich Paul, and that obviously means a lot to LeBron.

But at a certain point, LeBron should back off. Neither coworkers nor friends have a right to determine who someone dates.

Justise Winslow posts photo with 76ers forward Jerami Grant raising fists, captions it ‘WE MATTER’

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: A portrait of Justise Winslow #20 of the Miami Heat on September 26, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
Rob Foldy/Getty Images

76ers players are unsure how to respond to their franchise blocking Sevyn Streeter from singing the national anthem because she wore a “WE MATTER” jersey.

Justise Winslow is seemingly trying to nudge Philadelphia in a certain direction.

The Heat forward posted a photo with himself and the 76ers’ Jerami Grant raising fists and captioned it “WE MATTER”:

I’m unsure when this photo was taken, but my best guess is after the Miami-Philadelphia preseason game – which was preceded by the national-anthem singer kneeling during her performance.

Thabo Sefolosha throws down reverse dunk in transition (video)

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Was Hawks forward Thabo Sefolosha making the smart play to beat the defender or just showing off?

Either way, I’m glad he did it.