HANG TIME SOUTHWEST — The Los Angeles Lakers make their way to New Orleans tonight (8 p.m. ET, League Pass) limping and clutching various ailing body parts. But if Kobe’s in, everybody’s in.
And Kobe’s in.
“This is a critical part of the season to say the least,” Kobe Bryant said after Tuesday’s 122-105 loss at the Oklahoma City Thunder. “So I’m going to play.”
Kobe re-aggravated an ulnar nerve contusion, a painful injury to the funny bone that just lingers in the elbow, that he first injured earlier this season against Detroit. Dwight Howard suffered another flare-up of the torn labrum in his right shoulder early in the game, and Metta World Peace rolled his right ankle late in the game. All three are expected to play in tonight’s critical end to a back-to-back.
“I just got popped on a nerve,” Kobe said. “That’s the exact reason why I wear the sleeve is to protect that thing, and I just got popped right on that button. Every time you try to bend your elbow extended with a little resistance, it’s a lot of pain. You got to adjust your shooting mechanics and I wasn’t able to hold my follow-through too much, but you just got to adjust to it and go from there.”
Other than Kobe continually gripping his elbow or hanging his arm after contact, it was hard to tell he was hurting. When he returned from the training room, his first shot attempt was a lefty hook through the lane that missed. From there, he went back to peppering shots from the perimeter on his way to a team-high 30 points. He had 18 at halftime and for much of the game he single-handedly prevented a massive blowout and allowed the Lakers to make a run that eventually whittled the Thunder’s lead to 110-105 with six minutes to play.
“He has incredible confidence,” Steve Nash said. “He was struggling with his elbow and still fired off some big shots for us and made them. He was great.”
The Lakers dropped to 30-31 after the loss and fell 2 1/2 games behind the Utah Jazz, three back in the loss column. The Hornets are just one of three West teams (Golden State and Minnesota) that the Lakers are 2-0 against this season. The Jazz (32-28) play at Cleveland tonight, while the seventh-place Houston Rockets play at Dallas.
“For us right now, we have to get some wins,” Kobe said.
That means Kobe’s in. And so everybody else is, too.