Kobe's Return Marred by a Loss

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Photo by =Manny= via the LAist Featured Photos pool on Flickr

The heavens looked down upon Kobe Bryant and smiled.

On Friday Kobe announced his return for tonight against the team he scored 81 points, only second to Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point game in NBA lore. The gods didn't even frown on the hubris of the embarrassingly melodramatic video that accompanied the announcement.

If that wasn't enough, just hours before the game the Raptors sent Rudy Gay, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray to the Sacramento Kings in exchange for Greivis Vasquez, John Salmons, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes.

So with a short-handed Raptors team, it all sets up for the rise of the phoenix.

Except it didn't. The gods had enough of the hubris and handed the Lakers a 106-94 loss to the Toronto Raptors, their first home loss to the Raptors since December 28, 2001.

What was going to be a return to championship form looked more like a choppy team that didn't know how to play with one another. Kobe looked old, mortal and rusty with nine points, eight rebounds, four assists and an alarming eight turnovers in 28 minutes. Pau Gasol with his bad ankle looked old, slow and ineffective with seven points and eight rebounds in 24 minutes without playing the fourth quarter.

As the remaining notes of the "Imperial March" that announced Kobe's return drowned into the ether, the crowd finally taking their seats in the excitement of the return, the Raptors came out to a 15-4 lead.

Kobe's first points didn't come until he made a second free throw in the second quarter to cut the Raptor lead to 42-35.

What really killed the Lakers was Amir Johnson. Averaging nine points per game this season, the Westchester High alum decided his return to Los Angeles would be the perfect time to break out for a career-high 32 points.

Then there was the curious decision by Mike D'Antoni in the fourth quarter. The bench had whittled down the Toronto lead to four points. Xavier Henry had led the scoring for the Lakers with 17 points in only 14 minutes played. In fact the Laker bench leads the league with 46.8 points per game.

Instead Kobe came in for Henry with 6:52 left in the game. "I wanted to live a little bit," D'Antoni joked.

Toronto didn't joke around outscoring the Lakers 18-13 for the remainder of the game all with Kobe on the floor and Henry on the bench.

Curious stat. Every Laker starter had a negative +/- rating while every Laker reserve had a positive +/- rating.

All joking about the gods aside, it's hardly shocking to see the Lakers take a step back with the return of Kobe. It will take time for him to get back into game shape and have things running well.

It didn't help that Pau Gasol played with the sprained ankle, and that Jordan Farmar and Chris Kaman sat with their own injuries (torn left hamstring and back spasms respectively.)

As D'Antoni said, one game isn't going to kill them at this point. They're 10-10, hardly the abject disaster some people predicted.

Up next for the Lakers is a home game against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday.