With his legs in a bucket of cold water, Kobe Bryant could still feel the lingering effects of playing on his sprained left ankle for the first time in a week.
“It’s a little sore,” Bryant said following the Lakers’ 103-100 loss Friday to the Washington Wizards at Staples Center. “But it feels better right now than it did after practice yesterday.”
Bryant had missed two games this week against Sacramento and Phoenix and only lasted the first quarter of the Lakers’ win last week against Indiana. But after four days of rest and two days of practice, Bryant returned against Washington in a performance that fluctuated up and down.
Bryant’s 21-point performance on 8 of 18 shooting and 11 assists featured him playing the facilitating role for most of the first three quarters, including numerous pick-and-roll sequences that resulted in easy looks for Dwight Howard. But as Washington tightened the lead, Bryant took over in the fourth quarter with mixed success.
While Howard didn’t take a single field-goal attempts after scoring 20 points on 8 of 9 shooting, Bryant scored 13 fourth-quarter points on a 4 of 10 clip, including a reverse dunk and a three-pointer that cut the Wizards’ lead to 101-100 with 2.3 seconds remaining. But Bryant also went 1 of 5 on his last six attempts.
“I tried to pace it and not push it too much and have it get stiff,” Bryant said. “I tried to pace it a little bit. I didn’t attack as much as I wanted to, but it’s okay.”
But it wasn’t enough to seal a game winner. His 23-foot three pointer fell short as time expired.
“I rushed it a little bit,” Bryant said. “I didn’t know how much time I had to get it off with the dribble and then I had to check the line. So I had to shoot it a little quicker than I wanted to.”
There’s plenty of things Bryant could’ve done better beyond bailing the Lakers out of an ugly game.
Bryant played a large part in the Lakers’ stalling their ball movement. He played nearly non-existent defense on former Laker Trevor Ariza, who posted 25 points on 9 of 15 shooting and 7 of 12 from three-point range.
“It was off of John Wall’s screen and rolls with the big rolling to the basket and guards have to help on that big,” Bryant said. “He did a good job of sliding up and making shots … Our defensive intensity slipped a great deal in the second half and they took advantage of it.”
Such an effort led Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni to lash out at the team’s effort level. He argued allowing Ariza to post so many points remained “inexcusable.” D’Antoni also seemed to aim at Bryant when he sidestepped questions about the team’s lack of ball movement late in the fourth quarter.
“You want to throw me a piece of dynamite?” D’Antoni said. “I’m not going there.”
It remains to be seen how the Lakers will respond to D’Antoni’s rant.
“It’s a discouraging loss and we’re upset about it without a shadow of a doubt,” Bryant said. “We have to go out on the road and pick it back up.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org