Kobe finally returned to the Los Angeles Lakers after a nine month absence while he was recovering from an injury. It looked like he was excited to be back, but maybe a little rusty. Just a few minutes into the game, Bryant opened up with a 3-pointer from the left corner of the court, only to hit the side of the backboard and have it bounce away.
His opening shot may not have gone as well as planned, but the rest of the game was much better. The team played the Utah Jazz in Honolulu for the Lakers’ first preseason game. Kobe played most of the first quarter, but no more after that. He managed to gain five points in the 12 minutes he played, his most notable play being a 3 pointer from the right corner of the court, right over the head of Jazz player Gordon Hayward.
His playing time seems a little sparse from the 17-time all-star, but Bryant told the press he planned to increase the minutes he played in each game as he worked his way back into the NBA after such a long absence.
“The practice before, I played probably 40 minutes straight, so my back today was a little tight from all that running,” Bryant told USA Today following the game. “We decided to play the first 12, and look to increase it gradually with every game.”
Despite a hopeful return, the LA Lakers lost to the Utah Jazz, ending with a score of 90-71. This preseason opener didn’t go quite as planned for him, though he couldn’t have expected much more. He has played just 41 games over the last two seasons thanks to major injuries that have put him out of the game.
The most recent injury was a torn rotator cuff in January of his 2014-2015 season. He has also sustained a major injury to his Achilles tendon. Despite these numerous injuries that have debilitated the player’s 19-year career, Kobe responded that he felt great.
“(My legs) feel stronger,” Bryant told NBA.com. “They don’t feel tired at all. It’s just getting timing down. Getting acclimated to that again. But I feel great.”
The Lakers’ coach, Byron Scott, seems optimistic about Kobe’s return. He told ESPN that he was pleased with his performance.
“He was pretty good,” Scott reported. “He moved well. I told him before we went out, ‘Let’s just play the quarter and then let’s shut it down and see how you feel [Monday]. We’ll go through practice and then get ready for Tuesday.”
This method is geared towards Bryant’s best interest. At 37-years-old, Kobe is one of the older NBA players out there, and his numerous injuries are beginning to show his age. This is the second time in the last few seasons that Bryant has been out for several months thanks to an injury.
Bryant will have another chance to face the Utah Jazz on Tuesday. As Scott reported, Kobe will be playing a few minutes more in this upcoming game, and that, in combination with moves from some of the other incredible teammates, will have the team ready for the skirmish.
Bryant told NBA.com that one player in particular stood out to him during the game. D’Angelo Russell played particularly well with on-point passes and consistent attention to detail. Russell even managed to make a perfect pass to Julius Randle without looking.
“His vision is astronomical,” Bryant reported. “… There’s not too many passers that can make those types of passes, honestly.”
Kobe’s return may not have been what we’re used to seeing from him, but there’s little doubt that as he becomes more acclimated to being back on the court that he’ll fall back into his old all-star routine.
[Image via Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images]