No beef with Bryant

MIKE KOREEN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

LOS ANGELES -- They were part of Hollywood history back in January and tonight, they return to the scene of their crime.

Some can't get the memory out of their system, others claim to have erased it from their minds. But tonight at the Staples Center, the Raptors are bound to experience some painful flashbacks when they face the Los Angeles Lakers.

On Jan. 22, the unthinkable occurred when the same two teams stepped on the same court at the same arena. It was, in Morris Peterson's words, "like a perfect game."

It was the night Kobe Bryant scored 81 points against the Raptors.

"It always sticks out," Peterson, who has watched the entire game on tape, said yesterday. "Any time a guy scores 81 points and does what he did against our team, you're definitely going to think about it."

It was a night when jaded reporters grabbed bundles of score sheets, a night when Magic Johnson phoned Bryant to congratulate him on his feat and a night that made the Raptors famous for all the wrong reasons.

Bryant scored 55 in the second half as the Lakers rallied from an 18-point deficit against the shell-shocked Raptors. The Lakers star took 46 shots and made 28 for the second-highest point total in NBA history, behind Wilt Chamberlain's 100. Peterson was the defender who probably saw the most time on Bryant that night.

"You could do one thing, foul him or not foul him," Peterson said. "I fouled him a couple times and he hit the shot. I didn't foul him a couple times and he hit the shot. Watching the film and playing him was totally different. We were out there trying to stop him, but he was so determined."

History, of course, will not repeat itself. For one thing, Bryant is coming off off-season right knee surgery, forcing him to miss the first two games of the season. He is averaging four fewer minutes and almost 14 fewer points (21.2) when comparing this season to last. He also is about 14 fewer shots a game. Bryant has said he feels he'll be at about 95% for the game tonight after feeling around 70% for his first six games.

For these reasons and many others, the Raptors are trying not to focus on the number 81.

"It has left my mind, it's not a scar on me," Raptors star Chris Bosh said. "He hit a lot of shots. It wasn't like he hit a lot of layups, (or scored) 81 points in the paint. It was a lot of jump shots and some of them were just tough shots. Any time a guy hits tough shots like that, you just have to live with it."

The Raptors, after all, have bigger problems, like a three-game losing streak with three more games on the West Coast.

But the new Raptors, like the old Raptors, don't defend well and Bryant has had four days off to try to return to top form. The basketball world will be watching Kobe tonight.


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