Bryant will play at Staples Center for the first time since severely spraining his right ankle a month ago when the struggling Lakers take on the Utah Jazz in the teams’ final game before the break.
The NBA’s second-leading scorer, Bryant returned Sunday after missing 14 games but couldn’t end Los Angeles’ slide as LeBron James and Zydrunas Ilgauskas combined for 55 points in Cleveland’s 103-89 win.
Los Angeles, eighth in the highly competitive Western Conference, has lost five of six after a 1-4 road trip.
Bryant, though, doesn’t seem overly concerned that his team has lost nine of 15 overall.
“We’re OK,” said Bryant, who suffered the ankle sprain on Jan. 13 against the Cavaliers. “We just have to pull our shoes up and move on. We have to man up and go get it.”
Bryant, who until a few days ago wasn’t expected to play until after the All-Star game, finished with 26 points on 7-of-22 shooting in 41 minutes on Sunday.
“I was still able to get to the basket,” Bryant said. “It just felt good to play. I haven’t played in a long, long, long time. On certain plays I was wheezing a little and I didn’t have the lift on some shots.”
After spending nearly 30 minutes icing his ankle, Bryant reported no postgame discomfort other than some numbness. He said his ankle improved dramatically in the past few days, allowing him to return sooner than many figured.
If the Lakers are to make a move after the break, Bryant will need to get some help on the offensive end. Lamar Odom has stepped up this month, averaging 20.4 points and 10.7 rebounds in seven games.
The Lakers may be getting the Jazz at the right time. Utah could be without both Andrei Kirilenko and leading scorer Carlos Boozer on Tuesday after they were injured in the second quarter of a 136-128 loss to league-best Phoenix on Monday.
Kirilenko went down with a sprained right ankle 4:18 into the quarter and Boozer left the game 44 seconds before halftime after injuring his right foot.
Jazz coach Jerry Sloan will again be looking for his 953rd victory to tie Dick Motta for seventh place on the NBA’s career list.