EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Kobe Bryant had the ball in his hands and the crowd on its feet for the final possession of the first half in his comeback game.
He deked and drove — and his shot was swatted away by Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan.
After nearly eight months away, Bryant was grateful to be in position to take such a shot for the Los Angeles Lakers, even if it was rudely handed back to him. With his 18th NBA season finally underway, Bryant is confident he’ll get past his opening-week jitters and shakiness while his teammates figure out how they fit around him.
“It’s the uncertainty of knowing how it’s going to take,” Bryant said after a light workout Monday at the Lakers’ training complex. “In between timeouts, in between quarters, halftime, how is it going to feel? Is it going to stiffen? There’s always that uncertainty.”
It just takes time, and Bryant will go back to work Tuesday night against Phoenix in his second game back from a torn Achilles tendon. Although he couldn’t immediately step into his customary role as the Lakers’ dominant player, coach Mike D’Antoni realizes the Lakers’ fortunes are tied to the five-time NBA champion guard, particularly in a transitional season for the long-dominant team.
“We know, and everybody knows, he’s got to be the closer,” D’Antoni said. “And as soon as we can get him there, the more times he’s in that position, he’ll get closer to doing it.”
Bryant had nine points on 2-for-9 shooting with eight rebounds and eight turnovers over 28 minutes in his season debut Sunday night, unable to spark a comeback in the Lakers’ 106-94 loss to the trade-depleted Raptors.
Bryant ripped himself after the loss, saying he had no rhythm with his teammates and awarding himself a letter grade of “F.” After watching film until 2 a.m. following the game, Bryant corrected that grade to a “D.”