Kobe Bryant has ignored his ever-thickening medical file, playing through a broken finger, strained elbow, back spasms and, most recently, a sprained left ankle.
But it might be time for him to sit a game or two, a thought that crossed Phil Jackson’s mind while the Lakers’ coach watched him hobble around the court Wednesday against the Charlotte Bobcats.
“It occurred to me yesterday during the course of that game,” Jackson said a day after Bryant had only five points, his lowest total since a January 2005 game against Cleveland in which he scored only two points before being carried off the court because of a severely sprained ankle.
This ankle injury isn’t nearly as bad, but it’s the latest in a line of maladies that have plagued Bryant since he sustained a broken right index finger Dec. 11.
Bryant was unavailable for comment Thursday. He has not missed a game because of injury since Dec. 6, 2006, against Atlanta (sprained right ankle) and is not expected to sit out Friday night against Denver.
He apparently is driven to play all 82 regular-season games for a third straight season. He does not get any contract bonuses for doing so but, rather, relishes the concept of being a “warrior.”
The Lakers have a relatively restful February after a whirlwind January in which they played 17 games, 11 on the road. They play only 12 games this month, five on the road, before their schedule heats up again in March.
These next few weeks will be the Lakers’ least-active stretch the rest of the season, thanks to All-Star weekend and another four-day break that starts the Friday after the All-Star game.
Bryant was voted to start for the Western Conference All-Stars, who will be coached by Denver’s George Karl. All-Stars are rarely allowed to skip the game because the NBA wants its marquee names on hand, but Bryant could always ask Karl to limit his minutes.
The advantages to shelving Bryant for a game or two are obvious, but the Lakers are privately concerned about missing out on home-court advantage throughout the playoffs, in particular against the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are a game and a half ahead of them in the standings and own the tiebreaker thanks to two victories over the Lakers.
Meanwhile, the official status report on Bryant, courtesy of Jackson: “He’s trying a variety of therapies on it right now to see what will work for him.”
And he’ll play against Denver?
“I’m sure he wants to,” Jackson said.
When’s the break?
After barely getting past an undermanned Charlotte team, the Lakers face a four-game stretch against teams that have soundly beaten them this season.
The Lakers were drubbed in Denver in November, 105-79, and lost in Utah in December, 102-94. More recently, they lost at Portland for a ninth consecutive time, 107-98, and at San Antonio, 105-85.
The Nuggets (33-16) are second in the West behind the Lakers (38-12), but they played the last six games without Carmelo Anthony (sprained left ankle) and might be without him tonight as well.
Lakers assistant coach Frank Hamblen, who is in charge of preparing game plans against them, had an interesting observation, according to Jackson.
“He thinks that Denver feels that they’re a better team than we are and they’ve got our number and they play like it and we’re going to have be prepared for them,” Jackson said.
The Lakers and Nuggets were tied at two games each in the West playoff finals last season before the Lakers won Game 5 by nine points and Game 6 by 27 points.