INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Lakers star Kobe Bryant is expected to start Friday night against Indiana just two nights after sustaining a severely sprained left ankle in Atlanta.
Before the game, Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said he wanted Bryant to warm up and see how he felt before making the decision. He also wanted Bryant to be cleared by the team's medical staff.
Apparently, Bryant, who did a light workout earlier in the day, passed all the tests and will play. He has not missed a game since the 2009-10 season.
Asked during a pregame news conference whether his gut feeling was that Bryant would play, D'Antoni said, "Yeah."
Bryant has had round-the-clock treatment since Wednesday night's loss at Atlanta. He landed on the foot of Dahntay Jones in the closing seconds of that game.
It wasn't a total surprise to the Lakers.
"He's better, a lot better, so he's got a chance we'll see," D'Antoni said before the decision was made. "He is 34 years old and has played 17 years in the NBA, so he has to know whether he can play or not. He'll know, he'll know."
Bryant did not speak to reporters after the morning shootaround or before the game.
Instead, he spent his time getting treatment for what he had called the worst sprained ankle of his career.
The Lakers need Bryant to continue their surge toward the playoffs.
He is the NBA's third-leading scorer at 27.5 points per game and has helped stabilize his team during a tumultuous season that has included 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.
The Lakers (34-32) have won 17 of their past 24 games to move into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Utah (33-32) trails the Lakers by a half game entering Friday's games.
Bryant's list of accomplishments is extraordinary: five NBA titles, two Finals MVPs, one league MVP. He has played in the second most All-Star games (15) in league history and is No. 5 on the career scoring list.
But the most impressive part of the 34-year-old's resume might be his durability. He hasn't missed a game since the 2009-10 season and has missed only 148 games of a possible 1,227 during 17 NBA seasons.
So it's no wonder the Lakers believed he would play.
Even the Pacers expected to see Bryant in his only trip to Bankers Life Fieldhouse this season.
"We'll be ready," Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. "If he goes, there's not anybody able to overcome injuries as well as he has, so we'll be ready for Kobe at full strength."
Initially, the Lakers feared the worst for Bryant and said he would be out indefinitely after he stayed on the floor and writhed in pain.
He ended up not missing any games.
He later complained that a foul should have been called, and NBA officials agreed with that assessment. They issued a statement Thursday that said the referees missed the call, something D'Antoni said he agreed with after watching the replays.
But D'Antoni said he did not believe Jones was intentionally trying to hurt Bryant.
Getting Bryant back sooner than expected wasn't the only good news on the Lakers' injury front Friday.
D'Antoni said Pau Gasol could return as soon as Monday at Phoenix, and Gasol could be in the starting lineup against the Suns, too.
The forward from Spain has been recovering from a torn plantar fascia in his right foot since early February. Gasol spent the last part of the shootaround working one-one-one against Howard.
But the focus right up until game time was on the swollen ankle that D'Antoni hadn't even looked at yet.
"I think if you look at his tweets, you'll see it," he said, drawing laughter.
Bryant has routinely played with sprained fingers, still hitting his array of shots. Teammates usually play down the notion that any injury could sideline Bryant for significant time, and he didn't stay down long this time, either.
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed to this report.