Well that was anti-climactic.
For all the hype surrounding Kobe Bryant’s return to game action after he ruptured his Achilles back in April, a victory tonight against a team on a five-game losing streak, who also just traded their best player hours before tip-off, would have been nice.
Unfortunately, the defensive effort was scarce, the starters struggled to…well…start anything and the offense was as disjointed as the rotation. As a result, the Lakers are back to .500 with this 106-94 loss.
Bench – Led by Xavier Henry’s 17 points, every reserve who received playing time scored in double digits, which is more than we can say about the starters (more on that later). Together, Henry, Jodie Meeks (who moved back to the bench with Bryant back), Shawne Williams, Nick Young and Jordan Hill combined for 71 of the Lakers’ 94 final points. How’s that for the most productive bench in the league? And that’s without key member, Jordan Farmar. It’s no mystery why every reserve fell in the positive under the +/- column. Had the coaching staff kept the reserves on the floor, this game may have ended with a win.
Kobe Bryant – And it has nothing to do with his production, but everything to do with the fact that he finished the game in one piece. There’s no telling how he’ll feel in the morning, but Bryant went 28 minutes jumping to grab rebounds, landing and then taking off to the other end of the floor. He had eight boards and four assists, which could have been more had the benefactors of his passes converted. His eight turnovers aren’t surprising, since his biggest challenge will be timing and getting accustomed to his teammates’ idiosyncrasies.
Rotation-Roulette – Here we go again. If the starting line-up ever stays the same for at least 10 games, then maybe it wouldn’t be such a struggle to produce at the onset, but with players coming in and out of the first five, of course putting something consistent together would be difficult. Let’s start with the most recent shake-ups. The line-up of Steve Blake, Meeks, Wesley Johnson, Jordan Hill and Pau Gasol worked for a string of games, until Hill started struggling so he was sent back to the bench in favor of Robert Sacre. Sacre played well against the Sacramento Kings last Friday and started again tonight. Jodie Meeks, the Lakers’ leading scorer, was sent back to the bench with Bryant back on the active roster, while Blake, the team’s only true point guard since Farmar went down, had to give up the reins to Bryant, who tried to facilitate in his season debut, but didn’t run the floor like Blake has been and for good reason – he’s not a point guard who’s been running the team for the last 19 games. If Bryant was to be the ballhandler to start, Mike D’Antoni and the Lakers’ coaching staff should have just placed Blake with the second unit who have no playmaker. Moreover, Pau Gasol’s game is clearly being affected by his sprained right ankle. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he sat out a few games, in which case another change to the rotation would be imminent.
Defense – Bookend 30+ point quarters for the Raptors. It wasn’t so much the scoring that hurt the Lakers, at least not in the first half. They actually shot 50% in the first two quarters compared to Toronto’s 43%. And they went on runs that inched them closer and closer to the lead. But even getting to within three points, which they did, won’t do any good if you can’t stop the other team from scoring. The Raptors also had a 62-32 advantage in the paint. It’s easy to score when there’s no one threatening you at the hoop.
Turnovers – 19 turnovers for the Lakers led to 22 points for the Raptors.
It wasn’t the best game for such an anticipated return as Bryant’s, but let’s all remind ourselves that getting into game shape DURING the season is part of Bryant’s comeback. He didn’t have training camp or pre-season games to work out the kinks in his recovering body. Here’s hoping that Bryant doesn’t feel any pain come Monday morning, because up next up are the Phoenix Suns. A game against a team who holds a special place in his list of grudges might just do the trick to get back to his old self.