Lakers divided on whether Kobe Bryant will play in season opener

The Lakers can’t agree on the nagging question that follows them as they enter their season opener Tuesday against the Dallas Mavericks.

Will Kobe Bryant play?

He sat out of his fifth practice Monday since suffering a strained and bruised right foot in the Lakers’ exhibition game Oct. 21 against Sacramento. Bryant also missed the team’s last two preseason games. And against Dallas, the Lakers are considering him a game-time decision.

“He loves the big lights,” Lakers forward Metta World Peace said. Kobe’s never afraid of criticism. He’s never been afraid to play hurt and not play well or play hurt and play great. His mind is different from other people’s.”

Still, Bryant hasn’t picked up a basketball for eight days. He’s spent that time receiving constant treatment on his knee. Lakers Coach Mike Brown revealed he had an MRI, but provided no details on what it revealed. He even skipped the Lakers’ trip to San Diego last week in their preseason finale to avoid the 2 1/2 hour bus ride down and back. Bryant hasn’t spoken to reporters for a week and sounded in a dour mood last Tuesday when he conceded his foot is “pretty sore.”

Bryant suffered the injury when he tripped over Sacramento forward Thomas Robinson while cutting into the lane. Bryant, who scored 21 points on 6 of 12 shooting, stayed in the game before discovering the pain worsening.

“We would like to have him,” Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. “But for health issues and reasons, we would be more concerned with not having him later on for a long stretch.”

So instead, the Lakers are bracing for the possibility Bryant won’t play. Lakers reserve guard Jodie Meeks. who’s averaged 5.9 points on 26.7 percent shooting this preseason, played with the first unit during the portion of Monday’s practice that was open to the media.

“He hasn’t practice in a while so we understand what we have to do without him in a game, Lakers center Dwight Howard said. “He’ll be okay and will get stronger every day. He’s trying his best to come back and play.”

Bryant still exerted his influence, though. He mostly spent Monday’s practice receiving treatment on his foot, sometimes on a training table from the side of the court so he could still view practice. At one point, Bryant stood up and talked to Lakers Coach Mike Brown during a drill. At other moments, Brown recalled Bryant making a hissing noise to get his teammates’ attention.

“Everybody knows that’s Kobe’s way of calling anybody,” Brown said. “So you’ve got 30 heads turning to look. He’s watching what’s going on in practice. He’ll start coaching from the training table. He may coach an individual or he may have something that may help the team.

“Right now I just look at him as an assistant coach. He may not like to hear that because he because he doesn’t want to take a big pay cut, but he’s been in tune, involved with practice every day.”

Still, that pales from playing on the court. Bryant’s appeared spry in six preseason games, averaging 20.4 points on 50% shooting in 26.8 minutes. But the Lakers’ star has had to monitor his injuries closely. From a punctured right shoulder that has since healed and his currently strained right foot, Bryant has missed six practices and three preseason games.

If there is one guy that is capable of sitting out and playing a game, it’s Kobe,” Brown said. “He’s extremely intelligent and he’s been around the block. Him sitting might be better than him being out there every day getting banged up in practice.”


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