Dwight Howard reaches down to help up teammate Kobe Bryant after he was injured against Atlanta on Wednesday.
Kobe Bryant says Dahntay Jones’ dangerous defense left him with a sprained left ankle, and the NBA agreed.
Now, the Los Angeles Lakers are hoping the injury doesn’t keep their star away from a playoff push for long.
Bryant spent Thursday getting several hours of treatment on what he called the worst sprained ankle of his 17 NBA seasons, hoping to be healthy for Friday’s game at Indiana.
Although the Lakers offered no update on his condition after saying Bryant was out “indefinitely,” the NBA acknowledged Jones should have been called for a foul on the play that left Bryant crumpled on the court in Atlanta.
The fifth-leading scorer in NBA history was hurt when he landed on Jones’ foot with 4 seconds left after attempting a potential tying jumper in the Lakers’ 96-92 loss to the Hawks on Wednesday night.
Bryant rolled on the ground and eventually left the court in anger and pain, furious about Jones’ questionable tactics in sliding underneath him while Bryant hung in the air.
Bryant tweeted about it Thursday, including a hashtag: “cleanupthegame.”
The NBA later said video replay confirmed Bryant was fouled.
“After review at the league office, video replay confirmed that referees missed a foul call on Jones as he challenged Bryant’s shot and did not give him the opportunity to land cleanly back on the floor,” said the statement on the NBA’s web site. “Bryant should have been granted two free throws.”
Bryant tweeted that his ankle was “still very swollen. Treatment all day.” The Lakers had the day off Thursday in Indianapolis, the final stop on their three-game road trip. As some Lakers players meandered in and out of the team hotel, Bryant was not seen.
Bryant’s shot would have tied the game if he made it, which means the no-call played a role in costing the Lakers a valuable victory in their playoff push. With 17 wins in 23 games before their loss to Atlanta, the Lakers (34-32) are a half-game ahead of Utah (33-32) for the eighth playoff spot in the Western Conference.
The team and Bryant did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While some Los Angeles players, including Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace, walked around Indy, trainer Gary Vitti was scheduled to treat Bryant in the afternoon and again in the evening. Team spokesman John Black said the Lakers wouldn’t have an update on his condition until Friday, although Bryant tweeted a photo of his swollen ankle.
Although the team announced Bryant was out indefinitely, those familiar with Bryant’s toughness won’t assume he’s missing any games until Kobe says so.
Los Angeles faces the Central Division-leading Pacers on Friday before returning home to host Sacramento on Sunday.
Bryant is an uncommonly durable player who hasn’t missed a game this season. He is the NBA’s third-leading scorer with 27.5 points per game, keeping the Lakers afloat during a tumultuous year including 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.
Although Bryant has played through countless minor injuries to his ankles in recent years, he was particularly upset at Jones’ tactics after this fall. Bryant thought Jones moved underneath him while Bryant was in the air for a potential game-tying fadeaway jumper, leaving Bryant with nowhere to land.
Bryant coined another hashtag for it — “dangerousplay” — and later tweeted: “He knows what he did and anyone with half a brain can see it. I don’t want it to happen to anyone else!”
Bryant and Jones have a history, too: Jones blatantly stuck out his leg to trip Bryant during Game 4 of the 2009 Western Conference finals while Jones played for the Denver Nuggets.
Bryant’s new injury even got him thinking about an infamous foul by Jalen Rose 13 years ago. The Indiana guard purposely stepped underneath Bryant on a jumper and injured Bryant on the landing in Game 2 of the 2000 NBA finals.
When Jones tweeted that Bryant was partly to blame for sticking out his legs on his jumper, Bryant responded with his own interpretation of his style: “17yrs. Countless fades. This has happened TWICE. Jalen and now.”
Bryant — a relatively new arrival on Twitter — eventually reverted to his usual game face.
“I’ve cried foul play enough Big boy pants time for me,” Bryant tweeted, recalling the phrase he used earlier this year to encourage teammate Pau Gasol to get tough. “what else is this thing for? Political correctness? Ha.”
Bryant has an almost preternatural ability to play through pain, shrugging off strained knees, tweaked ankles and broken fingers to play with his usual artistry and grace while becoming the leading scorer in Lakers history. He even got a concussion and a broken nose in the 2012 All-Star game, but returned for the Lakers’ next game with a mask.
Bryant routinely plays with sprained fingers, still hitting his array of creative outside shots. Although his teammates usually laugh at the idea any injury could sideline Bryant for a significant length of time, he’s not impermeable to pain.
Bryant sat out eight of the Lakers’ final 10 games of the regular season last spring to rest a bruised shin for the playoffs. He also missed five games with a sprained left ankle in February 2010, and missed four more late in the season to rest an assortment of injuries.
Bryant isn’t the Lakers’ only injury concern. Starting forward Earl Clark also sprained his right ankle during the first half in Atlanta, but the Lakers said Clark didn’t break any bones, and he expects to play Friday.
Gasol has missed 17 games for the Lakers while sitting out since Feb. 7 with an injured foot. The four-time All-Star is tentatively expected to return next week, likely reclaiming a starting spot from Clark.
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