- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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LOS ANGELES -- There were 33 points that a growing faction of Lakers followers wanted to leave on the table before Los Angeles' 126-113 loss to Denver on Friday.
That's the amount of air-cast-aided points Kobe Bryant scored while playing with a sprained left ankle -- the same ankle that had fans demanding that he shut it down and rest over the last couple of days.
Bryant's presence in the lineup didn't deliver the Lakers a win. The Nuggets shot an out-of-this-world 57.1 percent and knocked down 15 3-pointers to turn a five-point deficit at halftime into a 13-point thrashing.
But imagine how bad it could have been had Bryant not played.
"He's super tough," Pau Gasol said. "He plays through pretty much anything. It's unbelievable. We never know how much he's hurting, but he plays through it and he still puts up huge numbers."
"We have to step up," Gasol continued. "As teammates we understand we have to step up. We are a lot healthier than him and we have to step up and go extra hard for him to get some pressure off his shoulders and support him as much as possible. We owe that to him as teammates."
If Gasol and the rest of the Kobettes owe it to Bryant to step up, then the fans who keep calling for him to park his butt on the bench owe it to him to shut up.
What does this guy have to do for Lakers fans to trust him enough to let him call the shots when it comes to knowing when and when not to give it a go?
There needs to be a name for these people who choose to play doctor and decide when Bryant should and shouldn't play. You've heard of D.J. Mbenga's Mbangers; how about Mamba's Misinformed Medics?
"It's [my] responsibility to play," Bryant explained after the game. "I could still be effective and play. Obviously I'm not as explosive as I was, but I can still command double-teams, things like that."
If Bryant sits out, the Lakers' options at shooting guard are Shannon Brown and Sasha Vujacic. Brown is coming into his own and is fantastic in the open floor, but the only double-teams he's drawing are endorsement opportunities with Sprite and Nike thanks to his recent dunk fame. Vujacic has been mired in a two-season slump and was booed heavily after shooting 0-for-5 from 3-point range Friday.
Bryant's impact couldn't have been any clearer when Lakers coach Phil Jackson was asked when things went south for his team.
"We had a nine-point lead in that third quarter and it looked like we were playing pretty well until Kobe got run out of the game with his fourth foul," Jackson said. "That kind of changed the course of the game."
If the Zen Master knows how important it is for L.A. to have Bryant in there, why haven't the masses followed suit?
Friday wasn't the first time Bryant proved himself in the face of an injury.
Take a look at his body of work when his body has been banged up
Injury: strained right elbow. Game in which he overcame it: a double-overtime win in Sacramento when he scored 38 points (including two daggers from deep in the second OT).
Injury: fractured right index finger. Game in which he overcame it: After shooting just 24-for-74 (32.4 percent) in the three games coming into Toronto, Bryant racked up 27 points, a career-high 16 rebounds and nine assists (and had a potential game-winning 3-pointer rim out) against the Raptors.
Injury: sore lower back. Game in which he overcame it: When the Lakers played in Dallas on the second night of a back-to-back after Bryant bothered his back in San Antonio the night before; he came through with the game-winning shot despite sitting out all of the second quarter to rest it.
Injury: sprained left ankle. Game in which he overcame it: The first game he suffered it in Philadelphia (24 points); the game after that (game winner in Boston); the game after that (44 points in Memphis); the game after that (six assists in a win against Charlotte); and the game after that which was, of course, Friday night.
And that's just this season.
Don't forget his equivalent of the Michael Jordan "flu game" against Indiana.
Injury: sprained ankle. Game in which he overcame it: Bryant missed Game 3 and most of Game 2 of the 2000 NBA Finals with a sprained ankle, but came back in Game 4 with the ankle still throbbing to score 28 points and carry the team to an overtime win to put L.A. up 3-1 in the series.
Bryant said earlier in the season that as long as he can walk, he'll play.
He's walking. He's playing. Get out of his way and let him do his job.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
Mamba's misinformed medics need to stop doubting Bryant