Kobe Bryant: Good player, bad team as Rockets rout Lakers

LOS ANGELES — Yes, Kobe Bryant is back. And as Los Angeles Lakers fans had so badly hoped after these last two torturous years, he looked mostly like himself again in his regular season debut after playing just six games in the 2013-14 campaign.

Kobe Bryant - (Photo: Richard Mackson, USA TODAY Sports)
Kobe Bryant
(Photo: Richard Mackson, USA TODAY Sports)

Six of 17 shots went in for Bryant, who finished with 19 points in 29 minutes in a 108-90 season-opening loss against the Houston Rockets.

BOX SCORE: Rockets 108, Lakers 90

So, now what? Good player, bad team. And every indication to this point that this is how this underwhelming story will go.

Rarely has a highly-anticipated return felt so empty, with the frustrated fans of this storied franchise so desperate for something to cheer about as they endure this foreign experience. Or, as was the case early and often, someone to boo.

Resident villain Dwight Howard was the natural target even before his too-good-to-be-true tiff with Bryant midway through the fourth quarter, and why not with this perfect timing? Nearly 16 months after he left the Lakers at the altar in free agency, in a move that Lakers President Jeanie Buss told USA TODAY Sports this week had far more to do with former coach Mike D’Antoni than it did Bryant’s domineering presence, this was the first time Howard and Bryant shared a floor together.

Howard’s presence made this a salt-in-the-wound kind of night for the home team, with the ripple effect of his departure two summers ago being felt even more now than before because the Lakers struck out on the free agent market in the latest summer as well. This came, of course, after a morning of banter that only fueled this fire that eventually spread.

Buss, who told USA TODAY Sports that she thinks the Lakers let (Howard) down, had also said earlier in the week to ESPN, Any free agent that would be afraid to play with Kobe Bryant is probably a loser.

When asked about the claim, Howard had told reporters in the morning, I didn’t leave L.A. because I was afraid of Kobe Bryant. Silliness aside, Howard finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds and even sparked a scuffle with Bryant midway through the fourth quarter that awoke a slumbering crowd.

As Howard grabbed a rebound and searched for someone to take an outlet pass, Bryant defended him tightly and eventually bore the brunt of the Rockets big man’s left elbow square on the chin. Unkind words ensued after the foul was called, with Bryant appearing to say Try me over and over and Howard hollering while wearing a snarky smile as well. Howard was given a Flagrant One foul, and double technicals were assessed. None of which mattered, of course, when it came to the overarching question of whether or not these Lakers can get much accomplished this season.

They weren’t helped when Julius Randle, drafted No. 7 overall out of Kentucky, left the game on a stretcher with a leg injury in the fourth quarter.

Heck, the latest return of Trevor Ariza was likely enough to make Lakers fans weep. The 29-year-old Rockets small forward who won a title with Bryant and company in 2009 had quite a debut with his new team, scoring 16 while spending the evening keeping Bryant mostly in check.

But have no fear, the necessary distractions to these harshest of truths were everywhere. Leading that list? T-shirts worn by so many fans that read Back 4 More, an homage to first-year coach and beloved former Laker Byron Scott that sounded more like a commentary on how they were all gluttons for punishment. Scott may have received the loudest ovation of the night, and he provided the warmest of welcomes before tipoff that embodied the enormous gap between internal perceptions and reality.

On behalf of myself … and this great team that we have over here …


If nothing else, the Kobe-chases-Michael-Jordan-for-his-all-time-scoring-mark subplot has officially started. He now needs 574 points to surpass Jordan for third all-time in scoring.

One could rightly argue that they did just fine. It’s the rest of the bunch that left so much to be desired. Jeremy Lin, who was traded from the Rockets in July, struggled in his Lakers debut with seven points and six assists. The many others who may have helped — Ryan Kelly (hamstring), Steve Nash (out for the season with a back injury), Nick Young (right thumb), and Wayne Ellington (concussion) — were too battered and bruised to take part.

So as the Laker Girls careened in Back 4 More T-shirts during an early fourth quarter break, there were some fans who decided they were Ready 2 Go. They headed for the exits with 9:53 remaining and the Lakers trailing by 21, just as Bryant battled in much the same way we’ve grown accustomed to seeing for two decades now. Seats would empty in mass after the Howard-Bryant scuffle died down.

But that, quite clearly, is not enough.​

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Kobe Bryant: Good player, bad team as Rockets rout Lakers

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