Lakers guard Kobe Bryant drives past FC Barcelona's Juan Carlos Navarro… (Lluis Gene / AFP / Getty Images )
Reporting from Barcelona, Spain — It turned out to be a European trip … and fall.
The Lakers went 0-for-Europe after a miserable shooting night in a 92-88 exhibition loss Thursday to FC Barcelona.
Kobe Bryant played almost 25 minutes but didn't look sharp, making two of 15 shots and scoring 15 points, almost all of them at the free-throw line.
The minutes Bryant played conveyed an incrementally improving right knee, but his usual efficiency wasn't there yet.
"He's not ready to play," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "He's going out there to help the goodwill and to show the fans his presence on the floor and support his teammates."
Just the same, Bryant became fully engaged in a chippy contest, asking to go back into the game with 5:41 to play and the Lakers down two.
"I wasn't going to put Kobe back in the ball game," Jackson said. "But he asked to go back in at that time and I said, 'OK, if you feel like you can contribute.' "
The contributing part didn't quite happen.
Bryant missed an open finger roll and then was stuck holding the ball when the 24-second clock expired. He made three free throws with 7.9 seconds left to bring the Lakers within 90-88 but also missed three three-point attempts in the final minute.
On the strong side for the Lakers, Bryant said his knee didn't betray him on the court. He had surgery in July to remove loose bodies in the knee.
"My knee was feeling good. I was feeling fine, didn't have any pain, any stiffness, so when that happens, you've really got to stretch it out as much as you can and try to get in rhythm as much as you can, and that's what I'm trying to do," Bryant said. "This is the first game I played in, really competed in, since Game 7" of the NBA Finals.
Bryant is two for 19 in exhibition play. He missed all four of his shots in six scoreless minutes Monday in London against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
Like Bryant, Pau Gasol had an off night against the defending Euroleague champions, scoring 25 points but making only seven of 21 shots in front of his hometown crowd.
"It's very early in the season for us," Gasol said. "We have two weeks to really get our act together and make sure we're at the highest level once the [regular season] competition begins."
The Lakers shot 34.1% as a team Thursday and missed all 14 of their three-point attempts.
Then again, it was only an exhibition. The Lakers open the season Oct. 26 against Houston.
For Gasol, Thursday was a homecoming in the truest sense of the word.
It wasn't the first time he returned to play an NBA game in Spain — he made appearances with the Memphis Grizzlies in Madrid and Malaga in 2003 and 2007 — but it was his first NBA game in Barcelona.
The crowd was active throughout but torn at first, unsure whether to cheer for Gasol, which they did to a great extent, or the home team, which they did to a greater extent at Palau Sant Jordi, one of the main venues at the 1992 Olympics.
Quickly, though, there were disapproving whistles (the European version of booing) when Bryant shot a first-quarter free throw after FC Barcelona was called for a technical foul.
The crowd strongly tilted toward FC Barcelona when the home team was hit with five fouls in the first four minutes of the third quarter.
The fans later chanted "M-V-P" — not for Bryant, but for FC Barcelona guard Juan Carlos Navarro as he made two free throws late in the game. Navarro, a former reserve guard in the NBA, had 25 points.
The game turned chippy almost immediately when Ron Artest and FC Barcelona forward Pete Mickeal tangled under the basket. Bryant was assessed a technical foul in the third quarter after saying something crass to Mickeal, who had 26 points.
Before the game, the Lakers were bemoaning the fact that FC Barcelona would be in better game shape than the team that was still waking up from its off-season championship slumber.
They were right.
The Lakers' next opponent will be jet lag, their 11-hour charter flight leaving Friday at noon. They'll practice Saturday and then face Sacramento on Wednesday in Las Vegas.