Lakers, Kobe Bryant show Brits less than true grit in exhibition opener
Reporting from London
London was calling, but Kobe Bryant was sitting.
Continuing a slow and gradual comeback from off-season knee surgery, Bryant played only the first six minutes and was scoreless in the Lakers’ 111-92 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves in an exhibition opener Monday.
He missed all three of his shots, including two three-point attempts. Bryant had two assists and a rebound.
A series of “Ko-be” chants bounced around O2 Arena in the second half but Bryant stayed on the bench, by design.
“I wanted to get up and get in, but I already had the shoes unlaced, ice on the knees,” he said. “Knees were frozen. At that point I couldn’t get back in. lt felt great to still get out there and play and run around a little bit. Coach Rambis just gave me a big hug and thanked me for not playing.”
That would be Timberwolves Coach Kurt Rambis, who beat mentor Phil Jackson for the first time, albeit in an exhibition game.
Bryant said his knee was still recovering, making it more likely he won’t be at full strength until a few weeks into the regular season.
But Bryant said he was feeling better compared to last June. He had knee surgery in July.
“During the NBA Finals, it was extremely, extremely, extremely painful,” he said. “Now, not so much. I’d probably say I’m probably about 60%.”
Bryant is expected to play similar minutes in the Lakers’ next exhibition, Thursday in Barcelona.
“I just felt like I had a sense of responsibility to get out there and play [Monday]. We fly all the way out here and the fans have come here to watch the game,” he said.
The atmosphere at O2 Arena buzzed with anticipation, in case the surprisingly loud reception for the Laker Girls wasn’t an indicator. Bryant received the loudest ovation when he was introduced before the game.
Many of the in-game cheers were for Lamar Odom, who looked as fit as advertised, scoring 17 points on six-for-10 shooting, including a double-clutch reverse layup late in the second quarter. Odom even had a pretty behind-the-back pass to Derek Fisher after dribbling downcourt (and over a fallen Michael Beasley), but Fisher’s three-point attempt was blocked.
Odom’s stats, however, could have been better. He missed all three of his three-point attempts and was five for 11 at the free-throw line.
He was one of the top players for Team USA in its recent gold-medal performance at the world championships and will be needed by the Lakers while Andrew Bynum remains sidelined -- perhaps until December -- after off-season knee surgery.
“I missed six free throws, man,” Odom said. “I didn’t play good. I’m not finishing. I’ll play well with [Bynum] out. I know what I need to do. I can play my best while he’s out and buy him some time so he doesn’t rush back before it’s necessary.”
The Lakers led at halftime, 56-55, but dropped off in the second half. They were deplorable from the free-throw line, making only 18 of 33 (54.5%). Their starters were a combined 13 for 26 (50%), Pau Gasol making only three of seven.
“Minnesota looked great,” said Jackson, the Lakers’ coach. “We looked like we just got off vacation. . . .
“I asked players after the ballgame what was going on at the free-throw line. Did they change the basket, move it back? Did they make the height different?”
The Timberwolves outscored the Lakers in the third quarter, 32-18, and made an impressive eight of 12 three-point attempts (66.7%) in the game. Beasley, acquired in a trade with Miami, had 21 points for the Timberwolves.
Gasol battled foul trouble and was generally unimpressive, scoring seven points in 23 minutes. He had five fouls and four turnovers. “Not really in great rhythm out there,” he said. “But I wouldn’t expect to be 100% in my first preseason game.”
Shannon Brown delighted the crowd with a dunk not long after entering the game. He had 13 points on six-for-10 shooting.
Pau on parade
The Lakers turn their attention now to Spain, where they play in Gasol’s hometown against FC Barcelona. Somewhat of a national hero because of his successful exploits with the Lakers and the Spanish national team, Gasol will be busy the next few days.
“I’m excited to get back and be with the team in Barcelona,” he said.
NBA Commissioner David Stern was grateful as well for Gasol’s trip to Spain, for obvious reasons. “He really has changed the appetite for basketball [there] enormously.”