The Los Angeles Lakers will continue the healing process with a matchup against the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday in front of a Lakers home crowd that is seeking closure more than a week after the death of Kobe Bryant.
The Lakers have played just twice since Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash Jan. 26. A game against the Los Angeles Clippers last week was postponed.
After an emotional pregame ceremony at home on Friday, the Lakers were defeated 127-119 by the Portland Trail Blazers, but they rebounded with a 129-113 road victory over the Sacramento Kings on Saturday.
LeBron James, who has vowed to be the rock the Lakers can lean on in the wake of the Bryant tragedy, had a triple-double against the Kings with 15 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. He shot just 6 of 15 from the field but still was a difference-maker with his 11th triple-double of the season and the 92nd of his career.
Anthony Davis had 21 points for the Lakers on the second night of a back-to-back set.
A tribute to Bryant and his daughter played on the video board during the game at Sacramento. Fans chanted Bryant’s name periodically. The arena was filled with fans wearing Bryant jerseys. It is a scene the Lakers figure to see often for the remainder of the season and one they say they can handle emotionally.
“We’re prepared for it,” James said afterward. “We understand it, and we hope it happens every night, just because of the legacy that he’s left behind. But we’re prepared for it as a team, as an organization, and we’re gonna continue to get through it.”
Home games figure to be even more powerful, if not for how the fans react, then simply because Bryant’s Nos. 8 and 24 retired jerseys will be illuminated high above the Staples Center court.
Every game the Lakers play, the normalcy of basketball will return. But Bryant’s legacy is permanently attached to this year’s squad.
The team scored 44 points in the first quarter against the Kings and 37 in the second quarter before cruising to the victory in the second half. The 81-point first half was another reminder of Bryant, whose career-best scoring game was 81 points in 2006.
“I guess he’s with us,” Davis said, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The Spurs will enter the Lakers’ game on the heels of another game in Los Angeles on Monday. The Spurs fell 108-105 to the Clippers and will participate in their second set of back-to-back games in barely over a week. They lost to the Toronto Raptors and Chicago Bulls on consecutive days last week.
LaMarcus Aldridge scored 27 points and DeMar DeRozan 26 on Monday, but San Antonio could not protect a 15-point, second-quarter lead and a five-point advantage late in the game.
The Spurs already could sense the impact of Bryant’s death upon arrival in Los Angeles, and that experience will only intensify when they meet the Lakers.
“You feel it all over the city,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, according to the San Antonio Express-News. “You can tell walking the streets and when you come into the building. You can’t help but reminiscence, and all the thoughts go through your head — what a tragedy it was, and what the family is going through.”
Tuesday is the third and final regular-season meeting between the teams, with the Lakers winning each of the previous two. Los Angeles earned a 103-96 road victory on Nov. 3 and a 114-104 road win Nov. 25.
—Field Level Media