Kobe Bryant awaits word on shin injury, gets big-time praise from Jerry West

Tomorrow’s story today ….

NEW ORLEANS — The Lakers will learn today whether Kobe Bryant can play tonight against the New Orleans Hornets, the second stop on a three-game trip that began with the superstar guard sitting out Saturday’s 20-point loss to the Phoenix Suns.

A painful left shin injury kept him seated on the bench in a well-tailored dark blue suit, his first absence from the Lakers’ starting lineup in 139 games, dating to the final two meaningless regular-season contests of 2009-10.

In many ways, this could be the finest of Bryant’s 16 seasons, if for no other reason than he has been a rock in an ocean of change. It hasn’t hurt that he’s also the NBA’s leading scorer, averaging 28.1 points going into tonight’s game.

With longtime running mate Derek Fisher now a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder after a trade last month, Bryant has moved into a leadership role on a team that has lack consistency and cohesion at times.

Bryant’s goal of a sixth NBA championship drives him during this transitional season, with Phil Jackson retired as Lakers coach, the triangle offense no longer an option and the focal point of replacement Mike Brown centered on defense.

“Kobe Bryant is always going to be Kobe Bryant,” former Lakers player, coach and executive Jerry West told The New York Times. “He’s going to play the game differently. He’s going to approach it differently.

“I heard someone say he doesn’t enjoy the game. The hell he doesn’t. He just looks on it as war. … His greatness is taken for granted. Everyone knows how great he is, but you can’t look inside. What’s inside makes him. Forget the talent.

“He’s got something inside that no one can measure.”

Kobe Bryant sits out with shin injury

PHOENIX — Superstar guard Kobe Bryant could not play in Saturday night’s game against the Phoenix Suns because of a left shin injury suffered when he was kicked accidentally during the Lakers’ victory last Saturday over the New Orleans Hornets.

Devin Ebanks started in Bryant’s place, his first start since the fourth game of the season and only his 15th appearance in 2011-12.

Bryant is suffering from tenosynovitis, an inflammation of the tendon sheath in his shin, according to athletic trainer Gary Vitti. Bryant will be re-evaluated Monday when the Lakers’ three-game trip continues in New Orleans.

“If you put your hand on his shin, you can actually feel it grinding. It’s very painful,” Vitti said. “He’s been playing with this and it’s not getting any better. Really, the only way to stop it is to shut him down. That’s why I put him in the boot.”

Bryant has been wearing a protective boot off the court since Wednesday in order to minimize the pain caused whenever he flexes his left foot, which irritates the tendon sheath. He can’t wear the boot during games, of course.

“You put him in the boot, he comes out of it and he feels better and he plays and then we’re back to square one,” said Vitti, who added that there is no timetable for Bryant’s return to the active roster.

The Lakers play Monday in New Orleans and Wednesday in San Antonio.

Bryant had played in all 56 games until Saturday and all 82 last season. He limped noticeably during the Lakers’ loss Friday to the Houston Rockets, but still managed to reach his season average of 28 points. He played 36 minutes, 56 seconds.

He did not miss a game in 2011-12 despite suffering a torn ligament in his right wrist after a fall during the Lakers’ first exhibition game Dec. 19 against the Clippers. He is averaging a league-leading 28.1 points on 43 percent shooting.

Lakers get some justice from NBA review

Tomorrow’s story tonight …

On the day the Lakers acknowledged asking the NBA to review several questionable plays by the Clippers’ Blake Griffin against Pau Gasol, the league fined DeMarcus Cousins of the Sacramento Kings for saying Griffin is “babied by the refs.”

Griffin appeared to go over Gasol’s back for a rebound dunk only minutes into the Lakers’ victory Wednesday over the Clippers, and then slammed his left forearm into the 7-footer’s head en route to another dunk in the third quarter.

Later in the third, Griffin shoved Gasol in the back as Gasol attempted a dunk, drawing a personal foul. The league upgraded it to a flagrant foul 1 on Friday, but told the Lakers it saw nothing wrong with either dunk.

“The league said (the dunks) were called correctly,” coach Mike Brown said before the Lakers played host to the Houston Rockets. “They said there was normal contract (on the first dunk). On the last one, they said Pau jumped into Blake.”

Kobe Bryant, Gasol’s Lakers teammate, said after the game the second dunk was all right with him. Bryant then called it an “unreal dunk,” during an interview Friday on Dan Patrick’s radio show. He also said the Lakers teased Gasol about it.

“You have to have thick skin to be in our locker room,” Bryant said, laughing.

Cousins found nothing humorous about battling Griffin during the Clippers’ victory Thursday over the Kings in Sacramento. Cousins got into foul trouble early in the game and wasn’t a factor. Griffin made a couple of key baskets late for the Clippers.

After the game, Cousins told a reporter from Sports Illustrated’s website Griffin is “babied. He’s the poster child of the league. He sells tickets, but he’s babied. Bottom line. … He gets away with (everything). He taunts players. Nothing is done. He’s babied.”

Cousins went on to call Griffin “an actor.” The league slapped a $25,000 fine on Cousins on Friday for “public criticism of NBA officiating.” Griffin and the Clippers play host to Cousins and the Kings tonight.

Kobe Bryant says he’s not worried about Lakers’ blown leads

Tomorrow’s notebook today …

The Lakers squandered a 15-point lead over the Clippers before holding on to win 113-108 on Wednesday night at Staples Center. They frittered away a 17-point lead over the New Jersey Nets before winning 91-87 on Tuesday.

They lost almost all of a 15-point lead to the Golden State Warriors before winning 120-112 on Sunday. They lost a 14-point lead to the New Orleans Hornets before rallying from a 10-point deficit to win 88-85 on Saturday.

Some four-game winning streak, huh?

If he was troubled by their recent method of operation, superstar guard Kobe Bryant wasn’t about to say so publicly after their second victory in three games this season against the Clippers. Bryant was calm, cool and collected.

“We’re a veteran group,” he said. “We’ve seen it all. This group here has been down 13 points in Game 7 of the Finals (and rallied to win the decisive game in 2010 against the Boston Celtics). There’s not much we flinch at.”

Certainly, close games are nothing new for the Lakers, who set the tone for the season by coughing up a late 11-point lead during an opening-day loss to the Chicago Bulls on Christmas Day. Double-digit wins have been few and far between.

Coach Mike Brown also didn’t seem concerned about it late Wednesday night. Giving up leads is one thing, but giving away leads and then games is another. Only one of the two happened in the fourth quarter against the Clippers.

“Kobe kept the guys focused in the huddle (during timeouts), too,” Brown said. “That was kind of fun to sit back and watch Kobe talk to those guys and keep those guys’ heads in the right spots in the course of the game, especially late.”

Whole new ballgame

The addition of point guard Ramon Sessions has given the Lakers a new look, one opponents are struggling to wrap their heads around, according to Bryant. Sessions is averaging 14 points and 7.3 assists since the Lakers traded for him March 15.

“It’s getting to the point where it’s tough to match up with us,” Bryant said. “It’s tough for defenses to really decide what we’re going to do. (Sessions) can really play. He’s got a lot of talent. He doesn’t flinch at all.”

Sessions had 16 points, six rebounds and eight assists against the Clippers.

Medical news

Bryant wore a walking boot after the game to protect his sore left shin. He also wore a protective guard on his leg during Wednesday’s game against the Clippers and also Tuesday against the Nets. He dismissed the boot as a “fashion statement.”

Bryant scored 31 points on 13-for-19 shooting, so you know he’s OK.

Metta World Peace revealed he has been playing with a sore ankle since injuring himself during the Lakers’ loss last week to the Oklahoma City Thunder. It didn’t appear to slow him down during the game against the Clippers, however.

MWP (the former Ron Artest) had a key steal from Chris Paul and an eye-popping dunk in the fourth quarter Wednesday.

Standings update

The Lakers moved a season-best 15 games over .500 when they defeated the Clippers and improved to 35-20. They are firmly entrenched in third place in the Western Conference, leading the fourth-place Clippers by 2 1/2 games going into Thursday’s play.

Can they catch the second-place San Antonio Spurs (38-14) before the playoffs start later this month? The Lakers haven’t played against the Spurs yet this season, but face them three times in the final three weeks.

“We have no shot at getting second,” Bryant joked. “It’s a daunting task.”

Andrew Bynum fined for failing to meet with Lakers GM

Tomorrow’s story tonight …

Andrew Bynum walked into the Lakers’ locker room at 6:30 p.m., roughly 30 minutes after his teammates were required to arrive. He changed into a pair of practice shorts and took his uniform, still on its hangars, back to the equipment room.

Bynum couldn’t play in Tuesday night’s game against the New Jersey Nets because of a sprained left ankle suffered in Sunday’s victory over the Golden State Warriors. He wouldn’t talk to reporters before the game, as is his custom.

So, it was left to coach Mike Brown to answer questions about him.

Brown confirmed Bynum was fined an undisclosed amount last week for blowing off a meeting with general manager Mitch Kupchak that was arranged to discuss his immature behavior, including an ill-advised 3-pointer March 27 against Golden State.

A Lakers insider said the team hadn’t suspended Bynum for his recent actions.

Then he smiled faintly and added the word, “Yet.”

“Am I concerned with Bynum’s attitude?” Brown said, repeating a reporter’s question about the 24-year-old center’s recent behavior. “No, I’m not concerned. … It’s been handled internally. It’s an internal matter.”

“Stuff happens,” Brown added. “Sometimes you guys (reporters) find out, sometimes you don’t. Just because you guys found out about this (Bynum’s fine), doesn’t mean I’m going to overreact. … If something needs to be said publicly, I’ll say it.”

Brown’s unwillingness to comment further raised more questions than it answered about a player who is projected to be the face of the franchise after superstar Kobe Bryant retires. Bryant has two seasons after this one left on his current contract.

Bynum has acted out noticeably since the March 15 trade deadline passed. His failed 3-pointer against the Warriors was only the most public example, but a Lakers source said last week there were a number of off-court incidents.

Bynum has played loud music in the locker room, violating a longstanding team policy. He has acted disrespectfully to teammates and members of the coaching staff, and when he missed the 3 against the Warriors, Brown had seen enough and benched him.

More recently, Bynum told reporters after Saturday’s victory over the New Orleans Hornets he didn’t know what was said during timeouts because he doesn’t participate in them, preferring to rest and “get my Zen on.”

Brown wouldn’t agree that he was enabling Bynum’s bad behavior by not addressing it publicly, saying, “What you’re trying to get me to do is make a big story out of it, and if I make a big story out of it, then that is your definition of not enabling him.

“What do you guys want me to say? We’ve handled it internally. We move on.”

Maybe he has moved on, but the story still has legs.

Andrew Bynum day-to-day because of sprained ankle

Tomorrow’s story today …

Andrew Bynum received treatment on his sprained left ankle Monday and the Lakers listed him as day-to-day, which means he might or might not be able to play Tuesday night against the New Jersey Nets at Staples Center.

If the All-Star center can play, then it’s status quo for the Lakers, who are looking for their third consecutive victory to start a stretch of six games in eight days. They defeated the Golden State Warriors after he was hurt in the first quarter Sunday.

If he can’t play, then Troy Murphy will move from the bench to the starting lineup for the first time this season. Murphy scored eight points and tied his season high with 11 rebounds in Sunday’s 120-112 victory over the Warriors.

Bynum, who is averaging 17.9 points and 11.9 rebounds, was hurt when he landed awkwardly after jumping for a rebound late in the first quarter. He left the game and walked directly to the locker room. X-rays taken during the game were negative.

“Yeah, we can (still win games),” Kobe Bryant said of the possibility of playing without Bynum, who has been sidelined for 122 games over the last four seasons. “I don’t think it’s a championship formula, but we can.”

Bynum was unavailable for comment Monday, but he told teammates after Sunday’s game he didn’t the injury was to severe.

“Hopefully, he won’t (miss any games) because he’s a big presence for us defensively and offensively,” Pau Gasol said. “He’s become such a point of reference for our team. If he does need to rest, then obviously rebounding is one area that everybody needs to make sure we make a conscious effort at, and it needs to be covered.”

Andrew Bynum sidelined by sprained left ankle

All-Star center Andrew Bynum suffered a moderate sprain of his left ankle when he landed on the left foot of teammate Josh McRoberts after going after a rebound late in the first quarter of the Lakers’ game Sunday night against the Golden State Warriors.

UPDATE: McRoberts told me after the game Bynum didn’t land on his foot.

Bynum never fell to the court, but grabbed at his ankle immediately. He limped slowly and motioned to the bench to have someone ready to come into the game to replace him, which Pau Gasol did with 1 minute, 49 seconds left in the quarter.

The 24-year-old Bynum bypassed the bench and headed straight for the locker room. X-rays taken showed there was no break, but he couldn’t return to the game. He’ll be re-evaluated Monday. The Lakers’ next game is Tuesday against the New Jersey Nets.

UPDATE: Bynum left the arena without speaking to reporters, but Lakers coach Mike Brown didn’t think the injury was too serious, saying, “I don’t think it’s going to be long-term, but I’m going to wait and see.”

Bynum’s previous injuries have been to his knees, and he has often joked that his knees might give him trouble but his ankles are strong. He has played in all 49 games for which he has been eligible to play this season. He served a four-game suspension to start the season for decking J.J. Barea in the playoffs last spring.

He tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee when Kobe Bryant crashed into after a fall on a drive to the basket in a Jan. 31, 2009 game against the Memphis Grizlies. He suffered a partial dislocation of his left kneecap when he stepped on Lamar Odom’s foot during a game against the Grizzlies on Jan. 13, 2008.