In what marks at least a small sign of progress regarding his sprained left ankle, Kobe Bryant has evolved in a one-day span from doubtful to a game-time decision for when the Lakers play tonight against the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center.
“He’s still a little bit under the weather,” Lakers coach Mike D’antoni regarding Bryant’s unspecified flu-like symptoms that he revealed Saturday night on Twitter. “He’ll come and try to go before the game and then decide if he can go or not.”
Bryant received treatment on Saturday, but the Lakers said afterward he still felt considerable pain and swelling in his ankle. He lasted only a quarter in the Lakers’ win Friday against Indiana after struggling to put pressure on the ankle.
Even though the Lakers (35-32) have only a half-game edge over the Utah Jazz (34-32) for the eighth playoff spot, D’Antoni said he’s more concerned about Bryant’s long-term health than believing he needs to play just for the sake of it.
“We talk to him about being cautious,” D’Antoni said. “But Kobe has a mindset on what he’s going to do and how he feels. You have to take his word for it. We’re always cautioning him. We have to look at the big picture and talk to him about it.”
The Lakers face a relatively easy schedule with games against sub. 500 teams in Sacramento (23-43, Sunday), at Phoenix (22-45, Monday) and Washington (23-42, Friday). But D’Antoni sounded wary that the quality of opponents should dictate Bryant’s availability.
“We get in trouble that way in taking people lightly,” D’Antoni said. “Sacramento has been playing really well. But you can go or you can’t go. If you can go, we want them to play. If you can’t go, we obviously have to make that call.”
It also helps the Lakers have three days in between their games Monday against Phoenix and Friday against Washington.
“That’s good,” D’Antoni said. “You have to look at all the factors. But I think the determining factor is if he feels like he can contribute and feels like I’m good enough to play. Nobody knows that. He’s been in the league a long time. He knows his body and will have to make that determination.”
In the Lakers’ 99-93 win Friday over the Indiana Pacers, Bryant played all 12 minutes of the first quarter and missed all of his four field-goal attempts. But the Lakers overcame his absence because of contributions from everyone else, including Dwight Howard (20 points), Metta World Peace (19 points), Antawn Jamison (18 points) and Steve Blake (17 points).
“All of us know how to play basketball,” Howard said. “We just have to read things like we did last game and what we try to do every night with or without Kobe. We have to read situations, read how teams will play us and go from there.”\\
The fact that Bryant initially tried to play through the ankle injury and then took himself out of the game convinces D’Antoni that the Lakers’ star will take the same precautions moving forward.
“He’s played 17 years and he’s smart,” D’Antoni said. “He understands what he can and can’t do.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org