Short-handed Raptors wreck Bryant's return

Forrest Lee, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

LOS ANGELES -- Guard Kobe Bryant made his much-anticipated return, but the Toronto Raptors ruined it, earning a road victory against the Los Angeles Lakers for the first time in 12 years.
Forward Amir Johnson scored 32 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, leading the Raptors to a 106-94 victory over the Lakers before a sellout crowd of 18,997 at Staples Center on Sunday night.
Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan scored 26 points and made three steals, while guard Kyle Lowery added 23 points, eight assists and three steals.
"My job is to close out the game. That's what I did," said DeRozan, who scored 10 of his points in the fourth quarter. "They got the ball in my hands, and I just tried to be aggressive."
Bryant, playing for the first time since going down almost eight months ago with a torn left Achilles tendon, finished with nine points, eight rebounds and eight turnovers in 28 minutes.
The win allowed the Raptors (7-12) to end a five-game losing streak and snap a 10-game skid in road games against the Lakers (10-10). Toronto last defeated the Lakers at Staples Center on Dec. 28, 2001, when they recorded an 89-86 win.
"We were just reading the situation better tonight," DeRozan said. "We knew what they were going to do. We just tried to take advantage of that. One thing we did was play hard and play smart."
Toronto won despite playing without star forward Rudy Gay, reserve center Aaron Gray and forward Quincy Acy. The three were dealt to the Sacramento Kings in a seven-player trade that was still pending before the game. The swap is expected to be approved by the NBA on Monday.
Even short-handed, the Raptors spoiled the return of Bryant.
"Everyone saw Kobe come back and the trade and all of that, but our guys have to be disciplined and not get caught up in all of the hoopla," Toronto coach Dwane Casey said. "No matter what happens, we've got to be focused. We can't control who's in uniform, who's traded."
Bryant, who had the crowd roaring as soon as he and the Lakers took the floor for pregame warm-ups, showed rust, air-balling his first shot. He committed three of the Lakers' nine turnovers in the first half, scored five points on 2-of-5 shooting, pulled down four rebounds and dished out three assists before the break.
"It's kind of feeling things out now," said Bryant, who hit only two of nine field-goal attempts and admitted he had trouble finding a comfort zone. "I'm pleased I was able to move and turn the corner a little bit. The rhythm is completely out of synch. It's a start."
Bryant said his first game back felt "really weird."
"It's a matter of getting those game legs back," he said.
DeRozan said, "He was a little rusty. You could tell a lot of his shots were short, but he's going to get it back going. I think he'll get back to the old Kobe."
Forward Nick Young led the Lakers with 19 points and forward Xavier Henry had 17. Guard Jodie Meeks finished with 14 points. No Lakers starter scored in double figures.
Bryant hit two free throws to pull the Lakers to within 89-85 with 4:50 remaining, but a 6-0 Toronto spurt boosted the Raptors' lead back to double digits. That was too much for the Lakers to overcome.
The Lakers closed the third quarter with a 10-1 run, cutting Toronto's advantage to 73-68.
The Raptors led by as many as 13 points in the first half before settling for a 51-47 halftime lead. Johnson, who finished 14-for-17 from the floor, scored 23 of his points in the first half. DeRozan had 10 points in the half.
Guard Terrence Ross hit a 3-point shot from beyond half-court to end the first quarter, giving the Raptors a 30-20 lead.
NOTES: Lakers G Kobe Bryant entered the game averaging 28.3 points per game in 29 previous contests against the Raptors. It is the second-highest scoring average for an opposing player against Toronto, with Allen Iverson's 29.7 points in 38 games ranked first. ... Toronto G DeMar DeRozan topped 5,000 career points in the first half. DeRozan, a Los Angeles native, is one of only five players in franchise history to top the mark. Chris Bosh (10,275), Vince Carter (9,420), Andrea Bargnani (6,581), Morris Peterson (6,498) and Jose Calderon (5,235) are the others. ... Raptors PF Tyler Hansbrough missed the game with a sprained left shoulder. His status is unknown. ... Lakers PF Chris Kaman sat out with back spasms. He is listed as day-to-day. ... The Lakers held a moment of silence before the game in memory of former South African president Nelson Mandela.

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