ATLANTA – After crumpling to the court with a severely sprained left ankle that Kobe Bryant called his worst in the past 13 seasons, the Los Angeles Lakers' star guard could miss key games in the stretch run to make the playoffs.
The Lakers are the eighth seed in the Western Conference, and fighting to qualify for the postseason. The loss of Bryant from the lineup – or perhaps even him diminished and playing with pain – could seriously imperil the Lakers' chances.
The Lakers termed Bryant as "out indefinitely."
In the final moments of the Lakers' 96-92 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night, Bryant missed a fadeaway baseline jumper and landed on the foot of Hawks defender Dahntay Jones. After X-rays came back negative on his ankle, Bryant was livid with what he believed had been a "dirty and dangerous" play on the part of Jones.
In an email to Yahoo! Sports late Wednesday night, Bryant said that Jones "threw his hip and lower body into mine on the shot. That's a foul with 100 percent certainty. Dirty and dangerous play. Doesn't belong in the game."
Bryant believed Jones slid his foot underneath him on the shot, leaving him vulnerable on the landing. After Bryant had brought the Lakers within 93-92 with a 3-pointer with 18.2 seconds left, he missed an 18-foot shot with 3.9 seconds left that could've tied the game.
On his personal Twitter account, Jones tweeted, "…Tape doesn't lie. Ankle was turned on the floor after the leg kick out that knocked him off balance. I would never try to hurt the man."
Jones suggested that Bryant's leg kick on the shot initiated the contact, tweeting in his own defense: "Leg kick that makes contact with a defensive player is an offense foul. Period. The NBA changed that rule two years ago. Stop it."
Asked if there was a way he could play in Friday's game against the Indiana Pacers, Bryant later responded in an email: "I don't know."
"I can't get my mind past the fact that I've got to wait a year to get revenge," Bryant said.
Bryant and Jones have history. As a member of the Denver Nuggets in the 2009 Western Conference finals, Jones was called on a flagrant foul for tripping Bryant.
"I think the officials need to protect players," Bryant said after the game. "Period."
The Lakers have been playing without All-Star forward Pau Gasol for six weeks. After tearing the plantar fascia of his right foot, Gasol has returned to workouts and possibly could return to the lineup in the next seven to 10 days.