Kobe Bryant will warm up Friday night before the Lakers make any decision about playing their injured star.
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Coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters during his pregame news conference that Bryant went through a short workout during the day and that he is doing better.
Asked whether his gut feeling was that Bryant would play, Antoni said, ”Yeah.”
Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times tweeted a photo of the official roster sheet for tonight’s game, and it included Bryant.
Bryant has undergone round-the-clock treatment since severely spraining his left ankle in Wednesday night’s loss at Atlanta. He landed on the foot of Dahntay Jones in the closing seconds of the game.
D’Antoni says that before playing Bryant must be medically cleared and then Bryant would have to agree that he could play.
”He’s better, a lot better, so he’s got a chance we’ll see,” D’Antoni said. ”He is 34 years old and has played 17 years in the NBA, so he has to know whether he can play or not. He’ll know, he’ll know.”
Bryant did not speak to reporters after the morning shootaround or before the game.
Instead, he’s spent the past two days being treated for what he called the worst sprained ankle of his career.
Initially, the Lakers feared the worst for Bryant and said he would be out indefinitely after he stayed on the floor and writhed in pain.
He later complained that a foul should have been called, and NBA officials agreed with that assessment. They issued a statement Thursday that said the referees missed the call, something D’Antoni said he agreed with after watching the replays.
But D’Antoni said he did not believe Jones was intentionally trying to hurt Bryant.
Bryant’s list of accomplishments is extraordinary: five NBA titles, two Finals MVPs, one league MVP. He has played in the second most All-Star games (15) in league history and is No. 5 on the career scoring list.
But the most impressive part of the 34-year-old’s resume might be his durability. He hasn’t missed a game since the 2009-10 season and has missed only 148 games of a possible 1,227 during 17 NBA seasons.
So it’s no wonder the Lakers were delaying the decision. The only hint Bryant may not play came when D’Antoni responded to a question about who would replace Bryant in the lineup. D’Antoni said that job would go to Jodie Meeks.
Even the Pacers don’t expect that to happen.
”We’ll be ready,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. ”If he goes, there’s not anybody able to overcome injuries as well as he has, so we’ll be ready for Kobe at full strength.”
The possibility of getting Bryant sooner than expected wasn’t the only good news on the Lakers’ injury front Friday.
D’Antoni said Pau Gasol could return as soon as Monday at Phoenix, and Gasol could be in the starting lineup against the Suns, too.
The forward from Spain has been recovering from a torn plantar fascia in his right foot since early February. Gasol spent the last part of the shootaround working one-one-one against center Dwight Howard.
But the focus Friday was on one swollen ankle that D’Antoni hasn’t even taken a peek at yet.
”I think if you look at his tweets, you’ll see it,” he said, drawing laughter.
The Lakers need Bryant to continue their surge toward the playoffs.
He is the NBA’s third-leading scorer at 27.5 points and has helped stabilize his team during a tumultuous season that has included the early firing of coach Mike Brown, a prolonged skid, All-Star center Dwight Howard’s struggles to fit in with his new team, and the death of owner Jerry Buss.
The Lakers (34-32) have won 17 of their past 24 games to move into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Utah (33-32) trails the Lakers by a half game entering Friday’s games.
If Bryant misses any substantial time, Los Angeles knows it could again be a struggle to make the playoffs. But nobody is anticipating that.
Bryant has routinely played with sprained fingers, still hitting his array of shots. Teammates usually play down the notion that any injury could sideline Bryant for significant time.
”That’s not the Kobe I know,” Steve Nash said. ”We’ll see how he feels. … This is his team and everyone respects him.”