The return of Kobe Bryant still didn’t change the course the Lakers have been on during this five-game trip, or the entire season for that matter.
They are on a losing path, the Dallas Mavericks winning, 90-82, Friday night at American Airlines Center to hand the Lakers a fourth consecutive defeat, completing a 1-4 trip that left their record at 1-8.
But Lakers Coach Byron Scott maintained that he saw progress throughout the trip, and not just because Bryant was back after missing two games because of a sore back.
Scott liked how his young group of Julius Randle (six points, 10 rebounds), D’Angelo Russell (nine points, six rebounds, five assists) and Jordan Clarkson (21 points) competed against the Mavericks.
Scott even liked the way Bryant (19 points) kept the young core from getting down afterward.
“I thought our youngsters are learning, they are getting better,” Scott said.
“We’re not reaping the benefits of that right now, but I think in the long run we will. . . . As a whole, I thought we did a really good job on this trip of competing. And that’s the key. We’ve got to continue to do that.”
Bryant’s last pervious game appearance was Sunday in New York. Then his back issues forced him to miss games at Miami and Orlando.
But when he started Friday’s game going four for four from the field, it looked as if the time off had been good for the 37-year-old Bryant.
“It wasn’t really time off. My back was hurting,” he said. “But I was able to do some things, stretching my back and also do some things to strengthen my legs. It felt good.”
The 6-foot-6 Bryant even had a moment in the second quarter when he tried to defend 7-foot, 37-year-old Dirk Nowitzki in the low post. But Nowitzki ducked around Bryant for a layup that left both players smiling at each other.
“Just two old guys having fun,” Bryant said.
Fun is not something the Lakers have had much of this season.
They won at Brooklyn to open the trip, but haven’t won a game since then, with close defeats at New York, Orlando and Dallas.
Bryant said he has encouraged his young teammates to keep at it.
“There are a lot of great things that they are doing,” Bryant said. “I told them, ‘You guys played better.’ We’ve just got to stay with the process.”
Bryant left the game for good with 14.8 seconds to play, the crowd cheering his name.
He hugged Dallas owner Mark Cuban, Nowitzki and several other Mavericks on the court after the game was over.
The Lakers don’t play in Dallas again this season, leaving Bryant to admit that he “absolutely” does soak in all the adulation in what could be his final season.
“This could be my last time here,” Bryant said. “It’s funny because there’s a lot of Mavs fans that normally heckle . . . me. Let me have it. Tonight they didn’t. It was kind of like ‘high-fives and best of luck.’”