Kobe Bryant's ankle another plot twist
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Barring an unforeseen turn of events, such as gas prices spiking so high overnight that the cost to fuel Kobe Bryant's helicopter from Orange County to downtown L.A. causes him to decide to drive to Game 5 at the last minute, making him miss the tip while stuck in traffic on the 405, he'll be playing Tuesday night on that bum left ankle.
Just how bad a shape his ankle is in is anybody's guess -- including for the Los Angeles Lakers' training staff -- after Bryant passed on getting his left ankle and foot checked out through X-rays or an MRI, even though the team wanted him to.
The official state of his injury "doesn't matter" anyway, according to coach Phil Jackson, because Bryant is going to play regardless.
Bryant played all 82 games this season for the third time in the last four years and didn't even miss a quarter, much less a game, after he suffered what he described as the "scariest" sprain in his 15-year career to that same ankle while playing against Dallas in March.
Even with Bryant's legitimate reputation for rehabbing injuries around the clock when a game is on the horizon, he will not be at 100 percent for Tuesday's game that will break the 2-2 tie, one way or the other, against the New Orleans Hornets.
But Bryant's state of disrepair might just be what the Lakers need -- desperation has proved helpful at critical times as they've tried to build their three-peat dynasty.
"They certainly play better when they're in a desperate mode," Jackson said. "There's no doubt about that."
In the last two postseasons, the Lakers are 7-1 in games following a game in which the other team either went ahead by a game or tied the series.
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It started in the second round against Houston in 2009. The Rockets won Game 1 and the Lakers bounced back to win Game 2. Houston then beat L.A. by 12 points to tie the series in Game 4; the Lakers came back to win by 40 in Game 5. That was followed by classics like in the 2009 conference finals against Denver. That's when L.A. followed a 19-point, series-tying loss in Game 4 with a nine-point win in Game 5.
Last year the Thunder made it 2-2 in the first round with a 21-point win in Game 4, and L.A. came back with a 24-point win in Game 5. The most notable desperation performance came in Game 6 of last year's Finals against Boston, when L.A. won by 22 in a true elimination game, as they trailed 3-2 in the series coming into Game 6.
But back to the New Orleans series.
Jackson was asked Monday what he felt was the biggest reason the 2-seed Lakers were deadlocked with the No. 7 Hornets, and it came back to the "D" word.
"They played with more desperation than we did," Jackson said.
The physical limitations of Bryant's body could cause him to dial things back Tuesday. He sacrificed his offense in the Lakers' Game 2 win, taking only 10 shots while expending his energy guarding Chris Paul.
While it's doubtful Bryant will be able to go back to the plan of checking the red-hot Paul with a limp, he could very well enter into distribution mode similar to Game 2 and in the first half of Game 4, when he had zero points but seven assists.
That would be the best thing for Pau Gasol, who has started to come around as the series has extended, averaging 16.5 points in Games 3-4 after scoring just 16 points total in Games 1-2.
New Orleans has dealt with desperation for more than a month now, taking in the blow of losing leading scorer David West to a season-ending knee injury in late March.
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Rather than submarine the Hornets, as West's loss initially appeared to do when they finished 5-5 down the stretch in the regular season, the loss sparked them to dig a little deeper when the playoffs began.
Now it's the Lakers' turn to increase their outputs with Bryant on the mend.
The Lakers didn't lose Bryant; his ankle just might limit him.
Desperation, no matter how it was developed by both teams and to varying degrees, is set to become the determining factor in this thing.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.