| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES Kobe Bryant's long awaited return to the basketball court began as a wild celebration on Sunday, but ended as a quiet reminder that the rusty All Star has more work ahead to get back to his brilliant best.
Bryant made his anticipated season debut in front of a frenzied Staples Center crowd, showing small hints of old form but mostly looking out of sorts as the Lakers were defeated by the Toronto Raptors 106-94.
In his first NBA action since he tore his left Achilles in April, the 35-year-old Bryant tested his surgically repaired foot during 28 minutes that saw him record nine points, eight rebounds and eight turnovers.
The Lakers all-time leading scorer made just two of nine shots and conceded that Sunday's return was just the first of many hurdles to come.
"I'm still feeling it out a little bit. My rhythm is completely out of sync," Bryant told reporters. "It's a start. The last time I had eight months off I was still in the womb."
Bryant's arrival was a rebirth of sorts for the Los Angeles crowd who showered him with boisterous cheers from the moment he walked into the arena.
He received a standing ovation during pre-game warm ups and chants of "KO-BE" filled the air prior to tip-off.
Looking less explosive than usual, Bryant picked his spots carefully and was more of a willing passer than aggressive shooter.
He missed his first couple of shots and did not register a point until converting a free throw with 6:26 remaining in the first half.
By then the Lakers (10-10) were playing from behind, they trailed the entire game, and Bryant was not only trying to catch up to Toronto (7-12) but to his new team mates as well.
The 18-year veteran had never played with many of the Los Angeles players and that was all too evident by his many errant passes and misconnections.
"You play training camp and (19) games, you play a certain way and when that is disrupted there are times when you don't know where to go," said Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni.
"One game is not going to kill us. We're going to get through this."
Midway through the fourth quarter, with his team trailing 89-81, Bryant re-entered the game and had a chance to save the Lakers as he has on many occasions before.
But on this night, Bryant's superhuman feats were grounded and he went the entire second half without a field goal.
"I don't feel normal at all," he said. "I couldn't wait to start watching film and start criticizing every little thing. That's the exciting part.
"You sit and watch and break it down and get ready for the next game."
(Editing by Patrick Johnston)