Roy Hibbert and Kobe Bryant
Roy Hibbert and Kobe Bryant ready for a rebound alongside Utah's Rudy Gobert during the preseason opener at the University of Hawaii.
(Ty Nowell/Lakers.com)

Kobe Returns in Preseason Opener

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

HONOLULU — For the first time in nine months, Kobe Bryant heard his name called in pregame introductions, took in the roar of the crowd and hit the floor for the Los Angeles Lakers.

After a torn rotator cuff ended his 2014-15 season in January, Bryant made his return for 12 minutes in front of a sold-out Stan Sheriff Center that chanted his name throughout the second half in a fruitless attempt for another look at the third-leading scorer in NBA history.

“(My legs) feel stronger,” Bryant said. “They don’t feel tired at all. It’s just getting timing down. Getting acclimated to that again. But I feel great.”

Bryant played the entire first quarter before sitting down for the remainder of the contest. As expected, the five-time champion deferred to his starting backcourt of D’Angelo Russell and Jordan Clarkson when it came to handling the ball, as Bryant went 1-of-5 from the field and sank both of his free throw attempts to finish with five points.

He said that his back felt “a little tight” after playing around 45 minutes at Saturday’s practice, but he anticipates gradually adding to his workload with each game.

Utah Owns Fourth Quarter
Formidable defense had the Lakers — who led by as many as 13 points — rolling toward a win in their preseason opener, as they held Utah to just 34.5 percent shooting through the first three quarters of the game. As the fourth period began, L.A. held onto a two-point lead, but a parade of fouls turned the tide against the Lakers.

Utah poured in 33 fourth-quarter points, stemming from a 15-of-16 mark at the free throw line. In this frame, the Jazz also shot 8-of-18 from the field to flip L.A.’s lead into a 19-point Utah victory.

The purple and gold’s shooting was icy throughout the game (28.9 percent), but especially so in the fourth when it made just four of 20 shots. No Laker that took more than three shots hit at least 50 percent, and the starting lineup combined to go just 10-of-41 (24.4 percent).

“I thought that (Utah) just made emphasis to just really get up and down the floor,” head coach Byron Scott said. “And we were a step late, it seemed, in every aspect of the game. So as I just told our guys, we’ve got a lot of work to do. There’s no way in the world we’re anywhere close to where we want to be when the season starts.”

Russell Impresses Bryant
His five points and three assists in 21 minutes may not seem like much, but Russell’s ability to direct the offense was enough to catch Bryant’s eye. Russell, who went just 2-of-8 from the field, consistently hit his teammates with on-the-mark passes, including a no-look dish to Julius Randle, who then drew a foul.

“His vision is astronomical,” Bryant said. “… There’s not too many passers that can make those types of passes, honestly.”

Russell missed most of Friday’s practice due to a bone bruise in his right foot, but was able to return for Saturday’s session and join the starters for Sunday’s game.

“It didn’t bother me at all,” he said. “I forgot about it once I was out there. My adrenaline was going. Got a good ice in after the game. So I feel good. Just gotta keep taking care of it.”

Turning the corner

A photo posted by Los Angeles Lakers (@lakers) on

Randle Returns
Nearly a full year after breaking his leg in the 2014 regular-season opener, Randle hit the court once again and showed rust as well as potential. After a by-all-accounts impressive start to training camp, Randle was inserted to the starting lineup and remained active around them with seven rebounds and a block.

“I think he’s an animal, man,” Bryant said. “I really do. He’s competitive, extremely athletic and strong as a bull. That’s a great combination to work with.”

However, Randle, who finished with seven points on a 2-of-10 mark, was one of the many Lakers who couldn’t find their shots, as he missed all six of his attempts from farther than four feet of the rim.

Young, Williams Head Bench
Reigning Sixth Man of the Year Lou Williams finished as L.A.’s leading scorer with 14 points, while Nick Young followed with 10 of his own. However, both were much more effective in the first half than the second when they combined for just nine points on a 3-of-9 clip.

Notes
Roy Hibbert led all players with 10 rebounds in 21 minutes, including five offensive boards. … Marcelo Huertas (strained right hamstring) and Larry Nance, Jr. (back spasms) were unable to play. Michael Frazier, Jonathan Holmes, Robert Upshaw and Metta World Peace were held out (coach’s decision). … Derrick Favors led Utah with 16 points an nine rebounds, while Gordon Hayward pitched in 11 points and nine boards. … All 10,300 seats at the University of Hawaii’s Stan Sheriff Center were sold.

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