- Marc Stein, Senior Writer, ESPN.com
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The Los Angeles Lakers are hoping that Kobe Bryant gets clearance from the league to miss Sunday's All-Star Game in New Orleans after announcing Thursday that Bryant has a torn ligament in his right pinkie.
But Bryant doesn't yet have that clearance ... and might not get it.
A league official confirmed Thursday night that the NBA is not looking for potential replacements to fill Bryant's spot on the Western Conference squad. That's because the league office still expects Bryant to start and play for the West, even if it's only for a brief cameo, after he played for the Lakers all the way through to their final game before the All-Star break Wednesday in Minnesota.
Bryant scored 29 points in 35 minutes in Wednesday's 117-92 win at Minnesota. Bryant sat out the fourth quarter and had the finger X-rayed after the game.
The Lakers, according to team sources, are trying to convince the league that Bryant should be excused after a visit Thursday to hand specialist Dr. Steven Shin revealed a ligament tear. Bryant is expected to make that plea personally once he arrives in New Orleans on Friday after Shin recommend that Bryant undergo surgery that would likely sideline him for six weeks.
Bryant also announced in a statement Thursday that he will bypass the surgery recommendation to try to play through the injury, as he did for much of a nine-game, 15-day road trip that the Lakers -- already missing injured center Andrew Bynum -- just completed with a sparkling 7-2 record.
He has been replaced in Saturday's Long Distance Shootout by Dallas' Dirk Nowitzki, but the NBA's longstanding policy on these matters would require Bryant to take some part Sunday because he did play Wednesday and since he's planning to play Tuesday against Atlanta in the Lakers' first game after the break. Boston's Kevin Garnett and Washington's Caron Butler have already pulled out of the East lineup with injuries.
Bryant suffered the injury -- initially described as a dislocated pinkie -- on Feb. 5 against New Jersey. The Lakers disclosed Thursday that the damage was more extensive than first thought, with Shin's examination revealing a complete tear of the radial collateral ligament and an avulsion fracture, in which a small bone fragment had been pulled off by a tendon.
Said Bryant: "My current thinking is to give my finger some treatment and rest for a few days and hope I can still continue to compete at a high level after that rest. I would prefer to delay any surgical procedure until after our Lakers season, and this summer's Olympic Games. But this is an injury that myself and the Lakers' medical staff will just have to continue to monitor on a day-to-day basis."
The injury was caused when Bryant's pinkie got bent back against the arm of New Jersey's Jason Kidd when Bryant tried to steal a pass. He re-aggravated the injury in Wednesday's victory over Minnesota when Bryant went for a rebound and took a hit from Wolves guard Rashad McCants.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson said he'd prefer Bryant not play in the All-Star Game.
"We'll do everything we can to get him the rest he needs," Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told the Los Angeles Times.
"We support [Bryant] in his decision. But a week or two down the road, if it gets hit again or if it just doesn't work, it doesn't mean he won't have surgery."
Bryant's injury is merely the latest in a string of health setbacks for the Lakers, offsetting the excitement in L.A. generated by the acquisition of Pau Gasol on Feb. 1. Bynum (knee) and Lakers swingman Trevor Ariza (foot) are expected to be sidelined until at least mid-March, while center Chris Mihm is expected to miss at least six weeks after undergoing surgery Wednesday to remove a screw in his surgically repaired right foot.
"All we can do is forge ahead," Kupchak told the Times. "As often as we've had these types of [injury] reports this year, it's part of what we do. General managers always use the phrase, 'If everyone stays healthy . . . ' but it's true."
Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
An injured finger may keep Kobe Bryant out of the All-Star Game.