The Raptors in the midst of their longest losing streak of the season tonight will play second banana to the return of Kobe Bryant to the Lakers line-up. The return of Bryant has got this game to be bumped onto NBA-TV down in the U.S. It will also spark references no doubt to Bryant’s amazing 81 point performance against the Raptors. While no one expects that from Bryant it is hard to know what to expect at this point in his career. He is returning ahead of all peoples predictions for is recover from a torn ACL/MCL. In football Adrian Peterson returned from the same injury and nearly broke the NFL record for rushing in a single season. Bryant is obviously older but to bet against him being as good as he ever was would not be a wise one.
Raptor fans may not want to hear this but this seems the ideal game for Kobe to return for. It is against a team that is struggling that he has had a lot of personal success against. It seems like a perfect fit from the Lakers point of view.
The Lakers without him and with a Steve Nash that has been injured more than healthy the Lakers have still managed to be above five hundred in the Western Conference at 10-9. In the East that would get you home court advantage while in the west it is good enough to have you out of the playoffs in tenth place.
Obviously aside from the hype and fanfare to Bryant’s return it will change the Lakers attack quite a fair bit and only they know where Kobe is in terms of this skills at this point. Safe to say he will draw a lot of attention from the Raptors on defensive end of the floor.
The Raptors really have their own issues and an already thin roster got even more slim with Tyler Hansbrough going out early in the lose to the Suns. What might be most disturbing is the Raptors in going 6-12 have been for the most part health with close to the fewest man games lost to injury. This is a clear indicator that this group as constructed is just not good enough to compete even in the shameful Eastern Conference.
The Raptors have failed to show much of a defensive presence especially lately allowing teams to score at will at times as highlighted by the collapse in the fourth quarter to lose to the Warriors blowing a 27 point lead.
It is a homecoming game for two of the Raptors in DeMar DeRozan and Amir Johnson. DeRozan has been one of the few bright spots in a rather dim season for Toronto. This has been a season that Johnson has struggled at times and really had issues since that missed three that lost the Raptors a game against the struggling Nets. He bounced back in a loss to the Suns but DeRozan was held in check. Both will likely be in the starting line-up if Hansbrough is unable to go tonight against the Lakers.
While jokes will fly about Kobe topping his 81 point career high against the Raptors it is more likely the Raptors just lose and extend the longest losing streak in the weak Eastern Conference to 6 games. This ending a Western Conference road trip going 0-3 and following a similar path to the one this team took last season. That might be the biggest indication that Rudy Gay has not been the difference maker that Bryan Colangelo at the time hoped he would be. He has failed to shine as first option for the Raptors and you can argue DeRozan has been more worthy of that consideration on a nightly basis.
It will get no easier when they come home as they face the San Antonio Spurs who sit just outside of first place in Western Conference. The rest of the NBA will get to see the Raptors looking at perhaps their rock bottom point which is never a good selling point.
In the end it is a team that feels much like the other teams that have failed in the post Bosh Era to be competitive.