Behind 12 three-pointers and James Harden’s 32 point 6 assist performance, the Houston Rockets spoiled Kobe Bryant’s return to the Los Angeles Lakers with a 108-90 victory on Tuesday night.
Bryant scored 19 points in his first game back at the Staples Center after missing most of the Lakers’ worst season in a half-century with two major injuries. Just by stepping on the court for his 19th season with the Lakers, Bryant extended his franchise record tying Utah’s John Stockton for the most seasons with one team in NBA history.
Bryant’s comeback game and the Lakers’ return from a 55-loss season went from bad to miserable when rookie Julius Randle left his NBA debut strapped to a wheeled stretcher with a broken right leg. The seventh overall pick out of Kentucky collided with two Rockets under the basket and landed awkwardly, collapsing to the court in agony.
After his own Lakers debut ended somberly, head coach Byron Scott described the scene as ”heartbreaking.”
”The last three or four minutes, obviously we weren’t thinking a whole lot about basketball,” Scott added. ”We were just thinking about Julius, and hoping he’s OK.”
A few moments before Randle’s injury, Howard and Bryant received matching technical fouls when Howard elbowed Bryant in the face after grabbing a rebound in the fourth quarter, setting off a lengthy stretch of shouting and finger-pointing between the former teammates.
Although teammates stepped between them, Bryant appeared to yell ”Try me!” at Howard, who wore his usual broad grin while responding.
‘There’s no need to go into it. We won the game,” Howard said. ”It’s over with. It’s about basketball. I’m not even focused on it.
Howard got a flagrant foul for the elbow, and Bryant got a personal foul in addition to their technicals. Both veterans were pulled from the blowout immediately afterward.
Houston’s All-Star Center had 13 points and 11 rebounds before getting into the exchange with Bryant.
The Rockets big free-agent acquisition Trevor Ariza and third-year man Terrence Jones scored 16 points apiece. Ariza hit five 3-pointers for the Rockets, who took an 18-point lead in the first half and weren’t threatened.
The Lakers left shortly afterward the game for their road opener in Phoenix tonight, while the Rockets flew to Utah for another road game Wednesday.
Kendrick Johnson writes for a daily newspaper and is an independent print journalist and sports television reporter who has covered the NBA Finals, NFL, NCAA football, MLB, NHL, championship boxing and UFC Fights. He’s done numerous one on one interviews with some of the biggest names and personalities in sports. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @kendrickjohnso