LOS ANGELES (AP) — After nearly eight months of recovery from a torn Achilles tendon, Kobe Bryant is back on the court for the Los Angeles Lakers.
He's confident his game will soon join him.
Bryant had nine points and eight rebounds in his season debut, but Amir Johnson scored a career-high 32 points for the trade-depleted Toronto Raptors in a 106-94 victory over Los Angeles on Sunday night.
With waves of cheers washing over him from opening warm-ups, Bryant acknowledged a bit of a struggle to keep his composure when he finally stepped back onto the same hardwood where he got hurt April 12. Although Bryant is proud of his perseverance through months of rehabilitation, he's more grateful to be back in competition — even when it doesn't turn out well.
"I think the last time I had eight months off, I was still in the womb," he said. "It felt good to get out there."
Bryant began his 18th NBA season by going 2 for 9 with four assists and eight turnovers in 28 minutes. Coming back from what could be a career altering injury, the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history returned in time for Los Angeles' 20th game of the new season, only to struggle with his shot, his timing and his new teammates.
"My rhythm is completely out of sync," Bryant said. "But this is a start, and I guess a start is good. ... I don't feel normal at all. I couldn't wait to start watching the film and criticizing every little thing."
Adoring fans cheered Kobe's every move and forgave every misstep, but Bryant couldn't rally the Lakers late against a short-handed opponent that hadn't beaten the Lakers on the road in nearly 12 years.
Bryant was touched by the fans' reception and his teammates' encouragement, although his ruthless competitive nature chafed against his emotions before the opening tip.
"You try to control it as much as you can, but you can't help thinking about the hard work," Bryant said. "You try to put it to the side as much as possible and do your work. ... It makes you appreciate the game, this franchise and this city, and all we've been through."
Nick Young scored 19 points for the Lakers, who went 10-9 without Bryant this season, forging a winning record without the five-time NBA champion and with little help from fellow injured MVP Steve Nash.