Kobe Bryant holds court, briefly, in Lakers’ exhibition opener
It was like old times, Lawrence Tanter introducing Kobe Bryant before a game as Lakers fans cheered and cheered.
Bryant was back, albeit briefly, even though it was only an exhibition opener against the Utah Jazz.
The score was ugly and almost irrelevant — 90-71, Utah — as the Lakers debuted their hodgepodge of players old and young at the University of Hawaii.
Much of the night was about Bryant, of course. He hadn’t been in a game since a routine dunk caused a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder on a telling January night in New Orleans.
Bryant, 37, started at small forward Sunday, pushed out of the backcourt because of the younger duo of Jordan Clarkson and D’Angelo Russell. He had five points on one-for-five shooting in 12 minutes.
His first shot, a three-point attempt from the left, hit the side of the backboard. His second shot, a mid-range jumper from the right, rimmed out.
Bryant hit a three-pointer from the right side and then missed from almost the same spot. He picked up his dribble on another play, pivoted several times and couldn’t connect on a mid-range fadeaway over Joe Ingles.
Fans chanted his name in the fourth quarter when it became apparent he wouldn’t return.
Bryant is already tiring of questions about how he’ll look this season, sarcastically saying he would hold a “B average” if graded on the upcoming season.
More frankly, and relieving to the Lakers, he said his legs “feel strong. I don’t feel tired at all. It’s just getting timing down. Getting acclimated to that again.”
It might be hard to remember sometimes, especially in Bryant’s final season (perhaps), but there were other players besides the 20-year veteran.
Julius Randle showed hustle by pushing the ball upcourt a few times after taking defensive rebounds, but he shot poorly from outside and finished with seven points on two-for-10 shooting.
As if to demonstrate Randle’s growing importance to the franchise, Bryant reacted strongly when Randle was fouled hard and landed on his back in the third quarter. Bryant jumped off the bench and practically ran onto the court.
“Damn right I did. If I could have ran fast enough to catch him, I would have,” Bryant said.
Randle was fine, allowing Bryant to offer one more compliment.
“I think he’s an animal, man. I really do.” Bryant said. “He’s competitive, extremely athletic and strong as a bull. That’s a great combination to work from.”
Russell had five points and seemed a little out of control on drives, making two of eight shots overall. He had three assists and two turnovers.
“Rookie. Nineteen years old,” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said. “That’s pretty much to be expected.”
Lou Williams demonstrated his alleged versatility by scoring from the outside and on drives. He had 14 points.
The Lakers’ second unit was Williams, Jabari Brown, Nick Young, Brandon Bass and Robert Sacre. Young had 10 points, making two of five three-point attempts.
Metta World Peace was healthy but did not play Sunday, a possible sign of his tenuous spot on the Lakers’ roster. He is expected to appear in Tuesday’s exhibition, a rematch against Utah, Scott said.
Derrick Favors had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Jazz.
Scott on fans calling for Bryant’s return in the fourth quarter: “I thought they were crazy. He hadn’t played for 21/2 quarters. They didn’t think I really was going to put him back in, did they? As much as I love Hawaii, it’s a much bigger picture than these two games.” Scott would not commit to whether Bryant would play Tuesday Sure, the Lakers are in Hawaii for 10 days. But Scott says he is taking it seriously: “This is business. I don’t swim, so I don’t get near the water anyway.”
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