<
>

Pretrial hearing may keep Kobe out

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Sounding exasperated, Los Angeles
Lakers star Kobe Bryant expressed uncertainty when asked if he'll return from a pretrial hearing in Colorado in time to play against
the Denver Nuggets on Friday night.

"I don't know, I don't know, I don't know," Bryant said
Thursday. "Look, man, I don't know. We'll go through the process
tomorrow. We'll see how long it takes.

"Perfect case scenario, I could play. We'll just see what
happens tomorrow."

It's unknown how long Friday's hearing will last. And traffic
from Los Angeles International Airport to Staples Center -- a
distance of nearly 20 miles -- also could be a problem.

Bryant, 25, is charged with attacking a 19-year-old woman last
June at the Eagle, Colo., resort where she worked. He has said the
two had consensual sex.

Should Bryant miss the game, it would be the first time his
legal problems have kept him from playing.

"We support Kobe," Karl Malone said. "We're going to go out
and prepare as if he's gong to be there. Guys have to pick it up."

Lakers coach Phil Jackson believes there is a good chance Bryant
will return in time to play in the 7:30 p.m. game. Asked what the
cutoff time would be for Bryant, Jackson replied: "7:30."

"We're strong enough of a team right now that we can make up
for it," Jackson said of Bryant's possible absence. "It's not
something I look forward to. I want us to function like we can
really function."

The Lakers (18-5) have the NBA's best record, but they didn't
function well in their last two games, losing to Dallas 110-93 last
Friday to snap a 27-game regular-season home winning streak and
112-108 at Portland the following night.

Their game against the surprising Nuggets (16-9) will be their
first in six days. That being the case, Jackson gave the regulars
Tuesday and Wednesday off.

"It was good to relax," Bryant said. He missed Monday's
practice because of flu symptoms.

"It didn't keep me down for long," he said Thursday.

Denver and Cleveland were the NBA's worst teams last season with
17-65 records. A victory over the Lakers would give the Nuggets the
same number of wins they had a year ago in 56 fewer games.

"The Nuggets are playing extremely well, Carmelo's doing an
excellent job for them," Bryant said, referring to rookie Carmelo
Anthony -- one of several newcomers who have made an impact.

The Lakers beat the Nuggets by an average of 20 points per game
in going 4-0 against them last season. Jackson expects this year to
be different.

"They're going to be a handful," he said. "They've been hot
lately. I'm sure they're looking forward to coming to L.A. to see
what they can do against us."