Preview: Lakers vs. Toronto Raptors

The Lakers (10-9) host the Toronto Raptors (6-12) on Sunday night in Kobe Bryant's first game after months off the court.

Can the All-Star guard return to form after tearing his left Achilles' tendon in April? Will he be the same player or a shadow of his former self?

These questions aren't likely to be answered Sunday, but it's a big step for Bryant after a devastating injury.

The Raptors visit with a five-game losing streak and every intention to spoil the night for the Lakers and Bryant.

Key matchup

Bryant will draw a difficult matchup in his first game back against Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan.

DeRozan is Toronto's leading scorer at 21.3 points a game. The former USC star is playing a hefty 38.6 minutes a game, shooting 43.4% from the field and 37.3% from three-point range.

Bryant's last moments in an NBA game were on April 12. He shot two free throws after tearing his Achilles' tendon to help the Lakers hold off the Golden State Warriors.

He's not expected to play big minutes on Sunday as Coach Mike D'Antoni looks to work Bryant back in slowly.


Raptors forward Rudy Gay hasn't shot the ball especially well this season (38.8% from the field) but he's averaging 19.4 points.

Wesley Johnson might be the most important Laker on Sunday in slowing down Gay. Through 19 games, Johnson is leading the Lakers with 1.53 blocks and 1.21 steals a game.

Toronto relies heavily on scoring from DeRozan, Gay and point guard Kyle Lowry. Power forward Amir Johnson and center Jonas Valanciunas nearly average double figures.

The Lakers are a high-scoring group, but the key to beating Toronto will be a good effort on the defensive end.


As long as Bryant can push successfully through his return, the Lakers win regardless of the score Sunday.

The team's future over the next few years is firmly tied to Bryant and his health. The Lakers have managed a winning record without their star.

The Lakers will need some time to adjust to Bryant, and Bryant will need some time to adjust to his body.

In the meantime, the Lakers are only two games behind the first-place Clippers in the Pacific Division.

A win over the Raptors would inch the Lakers even closer to the top of the Pacific.


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Twitter: @EricPincus

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