Raptors-Lakers Preview

Kobe Bryant’s torn left Achilles healed up just in time for the

Los Angeles Lakers’ star guard to try sending Toronto home with

another loss at Staples Center.

The future Hall of Famer will make his season debut Sunday night

against the Raptors, a team he’s gone 13-1 against at home in his

career – including 10 straight wins.

“I don’t feel like I have any limitations really,” Bryant said

after Thursday’s practice as he prepares to play for the first time

since suffering the injury on April 12 in a home win over Golden

State.

“The change of gear is not quite where I want it to be, but it’s

easy to compensate through that and go out there and be

effective.”

While he might be eased into full minutes, Lakers coach Mike

D’Antoni expects what he always has from Bryant.

“That he’ll be a dominant player,” D’Antoni said.

That’s been especially true against the Raptors.

Toronto (6-12) is one of two teams Bryant has a career scoring

average of better than 28 points against, and his career-high 81

points on Jan. 22, 2006 came against them at Staples Center. He

scored 41 in the last meeting, a 118-116 home win on March 8.

With wins in six of their last eight since Nov. 17, the Lakers

(10-9) find themselves without much of a hole to dig out of in the

Pacific Division after a 4-7 start. Friday’s 106-100 win at

Sacramento ensured they’d have a winning record when Bryant

returned.

Six Lakers scored in double figures, led by Pau Gasol and Jodie

Meeks with 19 each. Meeks made two 3-pointers in the final minutes

and went 5 of 6 from beyond the arc.

The Lakers have nine players averaging at least 8.3 points.

Gasol’s 14.5 leads the way, but that’s almost certain to change

with the franchise’s all-time leading scorer returning.

“We knew at the beginning of the season we were going to have to

do it by committee,” Meeks said. “We don’t have any superstars. Our

superstar is coming back Sunday, but 19 games we didn’t, so we had

to share the ball.”

Bryant is unlikely to be sharing any minutes in the Lakers’

backcourt with Steve Nash just yet. Nash’s return from nerve damage

in his back remains unknown and D’Antoni referred to him playing

Sunday as doubtful.

With the departures of Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace,

Bryant is joining quite a different team than the one he played for

last year.

“We’ve developed some guys that are really going to contribute a

lot, and it might not have happened if (Bryant) was here,” D’Antoni

said. “You have to look at the bright side of it. Now we just have

to get him back to the level that he’s capable of playing.”

The Raptors will look to spoil the party and close out a

three-game road trip by snapping a five-game losing streak.

Their latest disappointment came Friday in a 106-97 loss at

Phoenix. Amir Johnson scored a team-high 22, while Rudy Gay had 17

points and 10 rebounds.

Toronto was outrebounded 53-36, including 18-11 on the offensive

glass.

“We did a decent job of getting stops,” Raptors coach Dwane

Casey said, “but then didn’t get the rebounds. That’s about

toughness, that’s about attention to detail.”

Power forward Tyler Hansbrough leaving the game in the first

quarter with a sprained left shoulder didn’t help. He was scheduled

to have it evaluated Saturday in Los Angeles.

With or without Bryant on the court, Casey said his team needs

to worry first about fixing their own issues.

“We got to worry about us, no matter who we’re playing,” he

said.

And no matter who the opponent is, Bryant’s expectations for

Game 1 of his comeback remain simple.

“Just come out and win a game.”