Preview & Chat: Lakers vs. Raptors, The Return of Kobe

Darius Soriano —  December 8, 2013

Tonight’s game offers several subplots that, on any other night would really pique my interest. For one, I really like Raptors’ big man Jonas Valancunias and am interested in seeing how me matches up against the Lakers’ front line (and them versus him). Two, I’ve been quite impressed with what I’ve seen out of LA native and former USC product DeMar DeRozan. The shooting guard is leading the Raptors in scoring at over 21 points a game, is shooting 37% from behind the arc, and is starting to make good on all his physical ability. Combine these things with my consistent amazement with the fact that the Raptors have become “Rudy Gay’s team” and I would be looking forward to this game regardless if there wasn’t a bigger story coming into this game.

But on the night that Kobe Bryant will make his 2013-14 season debut and play in his first game since tearing his achilles tendon last April, no other story line really matters that much to me.

I have been trying for weeks to come up with the right words to describe what I am feeling heading into tonight. Excitement doesn’t quite capture it. Neither does anxiousness. Neither does any other slew of adjectives that I’ve been coming up with in my head and deleting from the page as I try to type this out. Kobe is finally back and I am at a loss for words. It wouldn’t be the first time he’s done this to me, but most other times it’s been related to some feat he’s performed on the floor. Tonight he’s back from one of the must crushing injuries a basketball player can suffer and will put his game on display — for praise, for critique, for everyone to dissect.

What we can expect from him is an unknown, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ideas as to how he can be most effective within the context of the team he is returning to. And on that note, some thoughts on his first game back…

*The rumors are that the Lakers will start Steve Blake, Kobe, Wes Johnson, Pau Gasol, and Robert Sacre. Kobe slides back into his natural shooting guard spot with this group and my hope is that he can find his niche within this group by adding his skill set to what they have already been doing well. What this means, then, is that I still hope to see Steve Blake with the ball in his hands to start possessions and for Kobe to operate as a shot creator and finisher after the team runs its initial actions. Kobe is a great practitioner from the wing and would do well if he could get shots much in the way that Xavier Henry and Nick Young do when they are paired with Blake. What I envision is Kobe operating on either wing (strong or weak side), and either coming to the ball side off picks or operating as a kick out option after pick and rolls or post ups on his side. This will allow Kobe to work against defenders who are closing out against him or trailing him off picks before he makes his catch. Out of these actions, he can then work off the dribble or shoot spot up jumpers when defenses don’t get to him in time.

*When Mike D’Antoni starts to make his substitutions is when I hope to see Kobe go into more of a ball handler/shot creator off the dribble role. With Farmar out, Kobe will play a fair amount of “point guard” and while this position isn’t something familiar in name, it definitely is in terms of role. Just last season, Kobe strung together several games of double digit assists working as the primary ball handler in the P&R, picking out the roll man or spot up shooters with equal effectiveness. Tonight, I hope to see Kobe aggressive when he’s in this role, looking to turn the corner and get into the teeth of the defense where he can either get off little mid-range jumpers or hit the open man with passes when the defense collapses.

*One way to get Kobe comfortable is to have him operate at the elbow area where he can survey the defense and make pass/shoot decisions against a spaced defense. I’d love to see him operate as the point person in the Lakers’ HORNS sets, playing the role that Pau typically does in these formations. When the Lakers go small, going HORNS with Blake initiating to Kobe at the elbow while Shawne Williams (or Wes Johnson) space the floor as PF’s while Young (or Meeks) do the same as the other wing, can allow Kobe to work from a spot on the floor that is familiar to him while also putting him in a position where he can make plays for others without having to do all the creating off the dribble that he would in a classic P&R action.

All of that said, if Kobe has the ball in his hands a lot the one thing we should be patient with is his ability to make passes on time and on target. Practice speed is one thing, but game speed is quite another. Kobe may find himself a beat behind in making his reads and that may lead to turnovers and or passes that aren’t conducive to getting his teammates good looks. I expect this to improve over time (from game to game and, even, as the game progresses), but out of the gate we may see some passes that simply don’t get the job done.

But even with that, what I also expect is for Kobe to bring a level of competitiveness and excitement to the game that only builds on what the team has been doing in his absence. One of the reasons I’ve enjoyed watching this team play so much is because of their proclivity to compete regardless of what the scoreboard says in terms of time and point differential. These guys are capable of having some down moments, but for the most part they get after it and don’t stop until the final buzzer sounds. Tonight, the guys surrounding Kobe will need to keep up that intensity and not get caught up in the moment that is his return to action. Kobe playing within himself will help with this, but his mates must help him by continuing to cut and make themselves available for passes with the same vigor they have all season.

I haven’t said much about the Raptors yet, but one thing I will say is that they should be just as amped up as the Lakers are for this game. The contest will be played on NBA TV and with it being hyped for days as “Kobe’s return” I am sure they’d love nothing more than to send the Lakers home with a loss and to silence the crowd early. They have an explosive wing trio in Lowry, DeRozan, and Gay and the Lakers’ defense will need to be up to the task of slowing these guys down. There will be no place to “hide” Kobe on D and he will need to be as dialed in on that end of the floor as he will be on offense. The Lakers have already struggled in allowing dribble penetration and in protecting the paint and tonight they won’t get much rest with the Raptors’ trio attacking the rim. Sacre and Gasol will need to be at their best defensively as back line helpers, but it must start with Blake, Kobe, and Johnson doing their jobs on the front end.

Lastly, for the fans, sit back and enjoy this game as best you can. The buzz in the air will be palpable not just in the arena, but coming off your TV screens. Go with that energy and soak it in. Kobe Bean Bryant is back in action tonight. The wait is over and we finally get to see #24 lace ’em up and go into battle. Something that has always been so normal takes on a greater importance tonight and you should try to enjoy every second of it. We don’t get too many of these moments as fans.

Darius Soriano

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109 responses to Preview & Chat: Lakers vs. Raptors, The Return of Kobe

  1. Kobe Alert: On April 12, 2013, Kobe ripped his achilles in what could have been a career ending injury for anyone, much less a 17 year veteran. Today, less than 8 months later, Kobe will return to NBA action. At tip-off KB will start his 18th campaign, which will tie him for 12th in that category. Kobe has of course played his entire career with the Lakers. This will tie him for second in that category. Reggie Miller and Karl Malone have spent 18 years with their respective teams. Only John Stockton will have played more seasons with one franchise – with 19 years with the Jazz. If Kobe plays through to the conclusion of his current contract – he will be the only player in NBA history to play 20 seasons with the same franchise. There are only 2 players in NBA history who have played for more than 20 years (Robert Parish and Kevin Willis). While the 20 year career is almost at hand, let’s not give up on Kobe completely owning this category before he is done.
    In another longevity type category, Kobe needs 314 minutes to catch Robert Parish for 11th all time. I figure that since everyone is calling for reduced minutes for KB, this will take about 9 games : )
    The 21 game hiatus for Kobe did allow others to creep up or go by him in a couple of lesser categories, however not by much. When you have the type of career numbers that Kobe has, it takes quite a bit longer than 21 games to catch up. A quick review of some of his all time – major positions: 6th in FG’s, 3rd in FT’s, 12th in 3 pointers, 32nd in dimes, 15th in steals, and of course 4th in points. Kobe needs 306 FGs to catch Shaq for 5th, he needs 52 dimes to catch Sam C for 31st, he needs 33 steals to catch I Thomas for 14th, and he needs 675 points to catch MJ for 3rd.
    It will be tough, however I think KB is returning early enough, that if he plays 60+ games, he could still make the All NBA Team. He is already tied for 1st for most all time selections (KAJ) and most all time starting selections (Karl Malone).
    Kobe’s name is prominently listed on the 2014 All Star Game ballot. If KB is selected, it will be his 16th selection, which will put him alone in second (currently tied with Shaq and KG), behind only KAJ. If he is named as a starter, he will simply add to his all time record of 15 starting nods. So vote early and vote often.
    I am sure there will be many debates to come about Kobe, his contract, his impact on the team, and his ability to co-exist with others. While these topics are debatable. Two things are not.

  2. Go Lakers,welcome back Mamba!

  3. Cant judge the team on tonight’s game…..almost like the start of the exhibition season again…….Will only get better every game….Only 2 games behind the Clippers !!!

  4. How do you do, KOBE ALERT!!!

    Someone else said it: HAPPY KOBE DAY!!!

    Kobe’s 81pt game is playing, and it’s disgusting looking at a team of, Parker, Cook, Kwame and Mihm. I’m just shaking my fool head. Kobe might have scored more if he didn’t have Smush “the Hater” Parker as his point guard.

  5. This will be the first NBA game I’ll watch this season. The NBA just got 100x better now that the legends back.

  6. Whatever the results of the Mamba’s return, I will always remember how tirelessly he worked to step back on the floor. #MambatheLegendReturns

    Let’s go on a winning streak, Lakers!

  7. Robert: “…While these topics are debatable. Two things are not.
    KOBE EATS FIRST…”. Well I know how Robert feels, however I’m more interested in seeing how the most emotionally & mentally mature version of Kobe in NBA history performs with his new teammates.

  8. There you go the Kobe alerts!

    Raptors shorthanded after the trade.

  9. Odd trade an hour ago. Rudy Gay for Patterson and Salmons tat Sac

    Gay on a plane now..

    Kamen next week.

  10. Oops make that also Vasquez and Hayes. Sac just dumped their entire bench for a $27 million contract and one way player.

  11. Kobe Alerts are back!

  12. Fitting that The Kobe Alert is the first post. And I liked Darius’ preview.

  13. Ahhh Good ol’ Kobe Alerts muss ya. Im really excited for the return tonight. I believe he will be on more of a facilitator/decoy mode until he gets his sea legs back. I know he is on a mission to prove the doubters wrong. This is going to be fun. Vino is back!!!!!!!

  14. Meant $17 mill Gay contract.

  15. Keep a eye on Lowery. Rumors are he is next to go. Purple is his fav color!

  16. the other Stephen December 8, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    welcome back, kobe. 🙂

  17. Welcome back Kobe Bryant.

  18. very excited to see kobe play tonight.

  19. Wow I am nervous!

  20. Kobe eats first no doubt. Remains to be seen if Kobe’s meals detract from the exciting Lakers team wins and high effort losses. Would prefer Lakers FO … but Kobe rules.

  21. Lol! And you know that we got it-Death Star- And you know that we got it!

  22. Well this is all nice but the team looks terrible like they never played before.

    This is a cheap team they are playing!

  23. Come on Kobe…you got this

  24. How about the rest of the team showing up. . .

  25. Like I said earlier…will feel like the first exibition game…no worries…little out of sync but will get better..

  26. Another clanking game from Pau coming. He needs. 5 days off between games these days.

  27. MDA finally subbed out Pau for Hill. Pau has sucked, bad.

  28. Nice to see that Gasol decided to bring nothing to the table tonight. I’m tired of defending this guy–and I defend him a lot.

  29. I could have sworn it was Kobe and not Pau who hadn’t played since April…

  30. Mind

    Not many 14 point 40% shooting $19 million centers in the NBA.

  31. I think Pau has finally taken that Thelma and Louise drive off the cliff of decline. Whether it’s the knees, the foot, age or some combination – I think he is not coming back.

  32. Team adjusting to Kobe, he is pasing the ball feeding Pau like a baby but Pau missing and he is off as expected from the long layoff, he looks fine so far

  33. Once again the bench is much better then starters.

  34. @Joe

    I came to that conclusion after the Pelicans game.

  35. I’m not trying to bash Pau, but man he’s been terrible so far.

  36. Holy crap Pau is now the worst starter on the NBA. 1 for 7 and can’t get an inch off the ground on defense.

    What a Hugh mistake keeping this guy to long. He is almost euro trade value now.

  37. Pau is stinking it up again. We can say it’s the ankle but I think he takes himself out of rhythm by not being ready for the ball when someone passes it to him or he hesitates as if he’s looking to pass. Pau needs to figure out what spots he wants to get to and what the hell he wants to do when he gets there. His game isn’t fluid

  38. I love the Big Spaniard but he is a liability now, that ankle injury is no excuse. The Lakers will win this game.

  39. Gasol struggling tonight, Nick Young and Xavier Henry looking good. Kobe’s passing still really good.

  40. Foster and his crew need to wake up and realize this game is being played in LA. TOR is getting some serious home-cooking aid from the crew in this game.

  41. Kobe’s first point comes from the FT line.

  42. Does Amir Johnson need a new team?

  43. Lakers are fine, they had a fast start and thats it, love Kobe running the offense. The other guys need to get with the program, he is looking to spoon feed guys.Kobe scores!!!

  44. Get Pau out of here before Johnson scores. 82

  45. So let me get this straight, Pau cant hit a bucket to save his life and allow a borderline starter like Amir Johnson have not a career night but a career half. Nah i must be dreaming.

  46. melcountscounts December 8, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    Yes Pau is not what he used to be, but I will never knock him publicly, he is the classiest guy ever with two rings, he will give what he’s got. At least he ain’t Nash…

  47. That was a really bad last shot.

    If this coach can read stats he will see the massive minus numbers with Pau on the floor. Starts Sacra then never bring him back.

    This is one of the worst 3 teams in the NBA and no way you can lose this fame.

  48. Kobe looks pretty much as expected in his first game of the season. Allowing Amir Johnson to look like an all-star thus far is embarrassing. Pau has to bring something to the table. If his offense has decided to take the night off, then bring something defensively. Containing Johnson is a good place to start.

  49. Did Pau just airball a jump-hook?

  50. So whats wrong with Pau? hes off on everything, even his passing.

  51. Kobe is overpassing.

  52. sacre seems out of place with the starters tonight – also guys aremt shooting off of the 1st pass from kobe

  53. If I were MDA I would play anyone on my bench over Pau at this point. I honestly can scarcely believe how awful he looks.

  54. Starters stink. This is the worst road team in NBA and Pau, Blake giving game away.

    Wake up mike.

  55. I have to admit. I thought that the biggest beneficiary of Kobe’s return would be Pau. With their history together, and Kobe’s understanding of what gets Pau going offensively, I figured there would be some hope. But Pau has botched at least three good dishes from Kobe, and generally looks clueless out there tonight. He should be nailed to the pine for the rest of the night.

    Meanwhile, Foster’s crew continues to befuddle with its inconsistency. LAL has been called for multiple moving screens, yet TOR is getting away with screening like some pulling NFL guards….

  56. Pau…terrible. Small ball anyone?

  57. i want to see meeks, kobe, johnson, jordan hill and pau lineup.

  58. Lakers are playing really slow…

  59. Fans are getting frustrated with Pau tonight.

  60. Kobe needs to start shooting. Raptors are going to realize kobe is not trying to score and they will play him for the pass.

  61. Why is MD allowing Jonhnson to have career high due to Pau.

  62. Sorry Blake is hurting team. He and Pau should be on benched.

  63. Kobe trying to force plays that aren’t there. He needs to establish himself as more of a scoring threat.

  64. How is it going straight up when your back is turned? Good grief that is a b.s. call even for Foster – who is epically terrible at his job.

  65. They can go ahead and bench pau and see if the lakers can get some hustle points from hill or sacre. I think laker fans are getting pretty frustrated with his play. But I think kobe is trying to do a little to much but overall he’s been decent

  66. This team is embarrassing themselves tonight.

  67. Bench to the rescue for the 83rd time…

  68. Amir Johnson is having a career game.And the bench is better than the starters right now.

    Also why are my comments being moderated? I have 3 comments in moderation.

  69. Please please please do not put starters back in. If you want to win coach.

  70. our bench is really dependable now… good to see them hussle and play, changing game momentum.

  71. I would like to see a lineup with Kobe playing some pg and swaggy staying out there with him to benefit from some of these open shots that Pau and Blake are clanking

  72. These Raptors forgot that we have the #1 scoring bench in the league.

  73. Lakers bench keeping them in this game.

  74. Kept bench on the floor.

  75. I agree with Joe

  76. Now this is a lottery team.

    Hill has gone way down Hill and Pau is now Amara like.

  77. Daaaa take out leading scorer?

  78. Kobe Pau and Blake 6 for 24 with 14 points.

    Rest of team shooting close to 50%.

    Oh well.

  79. 8 rebounds for Kobe in 23 mins…impressive.

  80. Aaaaaaaaaaand Blake is back!

  81. Mike d is making a mistake putting blake in. Why not substitute johnson with henry? Well at least Mike isn’t playing gasol.

  82. Just out of sync nothing more, there should be some improvement next game. Ugh

  83. LAL earned this loss, but Foster’s crew was putrid. LA got called for multiple moving screens tonight. TOR got called for zero despite the fact that its offense consisted almost entirely of Amir Johnson coming out and hip-checking whoever was guarding Derozan or Lowery to get them free. The last four TOR sets have all been initiated with that action.

    Didn’t like seeing Henry pulled for Kobe.

    Make that five consecutive Amir Johnson moving screens as TOR scores out of the time out. Pathetic. Supposed to be a “point of emphasis” this year, that was only “emphasized” against the home team tonight.

  84. By far the worst loss of the season. Fall back to 12 place and the way Pau and Hill look its either make some moves or expect more of the same.

    Can’t win when the coach benches your top scorer the last quarter.

  85. Kobe’s return has been a drag on the team and excitement. It has also cut Xavier Henry’s minutes. Can’t determine if Kobe’s return will make Lakers worse until about 10 games. One game means nothing other than Kobe’s returns cuts both ways. Tonite Lakers got the blade.

  86. MDA should had moved Henry to the 3 when he put Kobe in. Its going to be an adjustment period, but the team will be better on the long run. Kobe’s timing is just way off.

  87. Not smart having Kobe handling the ball the majority of the time. Particularly since this is his first game back. His timing is off and he’s nowhere accustomed to playing with his teammates. Hence the turnovers. Not saying that this is the reason for the loss, but it definitely contributed.

    Pau’s no show is probably the biggest reason for the loss and as the announcers mentioned, Farmar was definitely missed tonight.

  88. I know it’d been a long time and his first game but Kobe with 8 turnovers and a much slower game was not positive.

    If Mike really wanted to win he leaves Henry out there.

    Team went from really exciting and never give up to slow and lottery looking tonight.

  89. Taking out Henry….mistake….

  90. good post mindcrime
    back to .500

  91. All I know is that if Xavier was in, Lakers had better chances. Guy scored like what 17 points in 14 mins? And the Lakers’ weakness to guard the paint has been exposed. I hope they bounce back next game. And also thanks to the Lakers on behalf of Amir Johnson.

  92. I think he should have pulled Young or Meeks instead of Henry, if he wanted to bring KB back. Henry had made three straight bad plays on D, but when guy scores 17 pts in 14 min, you leave him in.

  93. Re-posted from before game, prev. thread:

    This year, he is in a low-expectations situation that highlights some of his strengths, and Dork D’Antoni has become Magic Mike. Too often, we think of coaches as good or bad, instead of as having strengths and weaknesses. MDA is a good reminder of the flaws in that approach.

    But now he has to deal with Kobe’s comeback. KB and MDA seem to have a pretty good personal relationship, due to the Team USA and Italy connections, but their philosophies about the game don’t match up well at all. Kobe is a slow-down, post-up, ball-stopping ISO guy who does not shoot 3s that well. MDA likes ball movement, PG dribbling if dribbling is to be done, fast-paced 3-driven O, and has said many times that he does not like post-ups. One reason the team is doing OK is that the perimeter D is better; Kobe was a big reason it was so bad last year. So, whether one loves Kobe, hates him, or is somewhere in between, and whatever one thinks of MDA, there will be very serious challenges for both guys here.

  94. Seems as if the simplest of comments are being moderated tonight.

  95. Thought about it some more. Can’t believe I’m saying this, but I can’t come up with a defense of pulling Young, Meeks, or Xavier in favor of Kobe at that point. All three were contributing to the comeback. I’m sure MDA felt tremendous pressure, however, to put him back in, and I can’t fault him for that under the circumstances…RR your point on that issue is well-taken, but tonight probably wasn’t the night to have that showdown….

  96. @ Ken, worst loss of the season? overreacting much? im dissapointed at the loss this was a gimme game, but after MDA had the rotations figured out Kobe’s return makes necessary rethink the rotations again. Watching Kobe tonight is encouraging he is way off on his timing both shooting and passing but im sure that will improve, he looked good physically so its just a matter of his game coming back to him. I do agree with a lot of people here that Henry should not be taken out of the game, if anything move him to the 3. Im just glad Kobe is back. Being there so quick after his injury is a feat by itself.

  97. To everyone complaining about comments being held for moderation: It’s the system that holds comments, not me or any of the people who have the ability to edit/delete/moderate comments. If you post a comment and get a message that says your comment is awaiting approval, that means it was flagged for some reason that, even after all these years, I have no idea about. I try to get in and approve comments quickly, but sometimes it doesn’t happen that way. I’d appreciate it if people stopped complaining about it or saying things like “I have a comment in moderation” because in the end it’s irritating for me. Thanks in advance.

  98. Toronto has lost 6 in a row on road and was short 3 guys including leading scorer. Name a worse loss Fern?

  99. I think that I’m with Darius on this. Either Mike needs to play Kobe and Blake together with Blake having full playmaking control (maybe with Kobe playing the 3 and Meeks the 2?) or Blake needs to come off the bench with the second unit until Farmar returns. Makes zero sense to have Kobe take over playmaking duties with Blake in the game too.

    This was always going to be a process though. So far the team is .500 and we’ll know quite a bit more after another 20 games with Kobe in the lineup. If they can be at or above .500 through 40 games, then they will still have a shot at a playoff spot. It was still pretty exciting to see the Mamba back in action. Hopefully he’ll shake the rust off soon!

  100. Rust. It particularly showed in #24’s ability to handle the ball and make the pass. Kobe tried hard to involve others and the results were very uneven. The 8 turnovers were not surprising to me. Kobe as a primary ball handler at this early stage of his return doesn’t seem like a good idea to me. Ball handling and passing is where rusty players have the most trouble adjusting to game speed. Let’s give the Mamba a few games to get it together.

  101. Getting killed against Golden State comes to mind Ken, we could have win this game but this is a team that is clearly going back to the drawing board after finding its groove. After the trade the Raptors players were eager to go out there. Even with 8 players that is still an NBA team. Inserting Kobe in the lineup is going to bring changes and adjustments.

  102. mindcrime,

    I was OK with MDA putting Kobe back in (although I would have left that other group in another two minutes) but I would not have pulled Henry–would have pulled Young or Meeks.

    And, as this plays out, we all need to remember that Kobe has his contract, so there should be no pressure here for him to prove anything, which, I assume may have part of the reasoning in giving him the deal before he actually played.

  103. I was encouraged by the way Kobe looked physically. Lots of rust, yes, but that will pass. This is an adjustment period for him as well as for the entire team.

  104. Kobe positive: he tied Gasol & Hill for game high rebound honors with eight for L. A.

  105. Toronto has lost 6 in a row on road and was short 3 guys including leading scorer.

    Losing Gay was arguably a plus for them, and the Lakers do not match up well with Lowry, Johnson, Valanciunas and DeRozan.

  106. MDA will have a minutes crunch to deal with,in that while the Lakers do not have any really good players, (Kobe needs to prove it, IMO) they don’t have any completely useless ones, either. One thing that MDA will need to establish is that either

    a) Kobe is playing the last five-six minutes of all close games even if he is 1-10 and Young, Meeks, Johnson, and Henry are all playing well.
    b) MDA reserves the right to finish games with KB watching if that is what the coach thinks is best.

  107. @rr Its been established by Lakers FO (& seconded by many posters to this blog) Kobe rules.

    Option A.

    The Mamba will not be on the bench at crunch time — period.
    Management has decided the “Icon” is whom people pay to
    see close games.

  108. @rr : I disagree…I think Kobe is still a good defender…I think he was pretty good statistically against opposing 2 guards and not to mention he usually has to cover for deficiencies of slow footed point guards (Fisher, Nash, Parker) his whole career… I think his biggest problem defensively is getting back in transition when arguing a call…and trying to cheat defensively in help and getting beat on back doors…

    Kobe moved pretty decent I was just concerned about his lift on jump shots…it actually reminds me of Jordan when he came back and his elevation on his jump shot was flat (getting blocked on fadeaways etc)

  109. Fanatic,

    The Lakers were about four points worse on D when KB was on the floor last year, according to a couple of different sources. There is noise in that number, but it tells us something.


    We will see. Also, that is exactly the kind of post that gets you tagged as a Hater.