Lakers prep for emotional return to court against Blazers

NBA
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Thousands of Kobe Bryant fans have flocked to Staples Center since the devastating news Sunday of the NBA great, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, Calif.

The nightly tributes have poured in and are another testament to the love affair the City of Angels experienced with Bryant, who led the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA titles in his 20 seasons with the club.

Hearts will be heavy Friday night, when the Lakers host the Portland Trail Blazers in their first game since Bryant’s death but it might help lift the spirits of a city and his fans in deep mourning.

“I think its therapeutic. Anytime you can get out and take your mind off something like this, there is no doubt it will be therapeutic, and help with the process of us moving forward,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel told a large assembly of media gathered for the team’s first practice Wednesday since the gut-wrenching development.

The Lakers haven’t played since Saturday, when the host Philadelphia 76ers handed them a 108-91 loss. Los Angeles was scheduled to face the L.A. Clippers on Tuesday, but the NBA granted the Lakers’ request to postpone the game as the club grieved.

In an eerie prelude, LeBron James surpassed Bryant’s mark of 33,643 points to become the NBA’s third-leading career scorer in the city where the late Laker grew up one night before the sports world would be rocked to its core.

Bryant’s last Twitter post saluted James, who finished with 29 points, eight assists and seven rebounds against the Sixers.

“Continuing to move the game forward KingJames. Much respect my brother #33644.”

The Lakers received the news on their flight from Philadelphia. With the exception of social media posts, including ones by James and Anthony Davis, the Laker players have been practically silent expressing their agony publicly. Vogel spoke for them.

“We want to represent what Kobe was about more than anything,” Vogel told the media. “We’ve always wanted to make him proud. And that’s not going to be any different here.”

At Portland, Damian Lillard recorded his first triple-double with 36 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds, boosting the Blazers past the Houston Rockets 125-112 on Wednesday. Lillard converted 6 of 12 3-pointers and 11 of 21 shots from the floor, leading the Blazers to their third win in four games.

Lillard, who had 25 points in the first half, has scored at least 30 points in a franchise-record six games in a row.

“It’s about time,” Lillard told reporters after the game on recording his initial triple-double. “It took eight years. I think there’s been plenty of times where I could have just hunted it. I’ve been two rebounds or one assist away, but it’s just something I never wanted to (go) out there and just chase.”

CJ McCollum finished with 22 points, while Hassan Whiteside delivered a solid outing with 15 points, 10 boards and five blocks. Former Laker Trevor Ariza, who won a title with Bryant in 2009, contributed a season-high 21 points on 9-of-14 shooting in his third game with the Blazers after being acquired from the Sacramento Kings.

–Field Level Media

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