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Bryant likely out at least three weeks

LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant will miss at least five games with a severely sprained right ankle, but the Los Angeles Lakers said Friday they won't know exactly how long he'll be out for another 72 hours.

Bryant, hurt in the first quarter of Thursday night's game against Cleveland, was placed on the injured list and replaced on the roster by rookie guard Tony Bobbitt before Saturday night's game at Golden State.

An MRI exam confirmed Bryant has a severely sprained ankle. The Lakers said he'll be re-evaluated Monday.

Bryant is expected to miss about three weeks with the injury. He had not missed a game
this season.

Bryant didn't make the trip to Oakland, but spent much of the
day calling his teammates from home with encouragement.

Bobbitt, who played for Cincinnati,
was signed as a free agent on Dec. 6, but went on the injured list
with a strained lower back two days later without playing a game.

Sasha Vujacic, another rookie, replaced Bryant in the starting
lineup against the Warriors. Vujacic has played sparingly this
season, sitting out several games while healthy, but coach Rudy
Tomjanovich chose the Slovenian guard over Jumaine Jones to make
the start.

Bryant is the NBA's second-leading scorer with a 27.5-point average. He was injured when he landed on Ira Newble's right foot while going for a rebound under the Cavaliers' basket.

"We will miss him greatly, but this is an opportunity to grow as a team," coach Rudy Tomjanovich said before the Lakers flew to Oakland for their game against the Warriors.

"It puts a way bigger burden on me," the coach said. "We know Lamar [Odom] will get more plays, but I've got to call these things for other guys and get people in the right positions, because Kobe was in those positions and he carried a lot of the load."

Odom scored 24 points to equal a season high in the Lakers' 98-94 victory over the Cavaliers, raising their record to 19-15.

Regarding Bryant's injury, Tomjanovich said: "It happens all the time in this league. You ever play poker? You take the hand you're dealt and you play with it. You don't worry about what if I've gotten this or what if I've gotten that."

When asked what kind of hand he had, Tomjanovich laughed and said: "I'm not giving up my cards."

X-rays taken shortly after Bryant was injured were normal, but after the game he said he knew the injury was serious, saying it might take weeks rather than days for him to recover.

When asked Friday if it could be on the short end -- like two weeks -- he replied: "I hope so. But I've got to tell you, this is the worst ankle sprain I've had, pain-wise. I can't even move my foot. I have a high threshold for pain. I kind of enjoy it sometimes. It lets you know you're still living, but this one right here I don't like too much.

"I think Monday we'll have a clearer idea as far as recovery time," he said.

Bryant, 26, has played in every Lakers game this season despite having soreness in his left foot from plantar fasciitis. He entered
Thursday night's game averaging an NBA-leading 43.1 minutes per game.

Bryant signed a seven-year, $136.4 million contract last summer to stay with the rebuilt Lakers, who traded Shaquille O'Neal to Miami and Gary Payton to Boston. Karl Malone, Derek Fisher and coach Phil Jackson also left.

There is good news -- following their game at Golden State, the Lakers play nine straight games at Staples Center including a designated road game against the Clippers.

"I think people are going to be surprised the way we respond," Bryant said. "They're going to step up and win ballgames. When a team is put in a situation where you have to step up to the plate, and your back is against the wall, you do nothing but fight, right? So in this situation, I don't see us as being any different."

Odom said the Lakers will certainly miss Bryant.

"As a unit, of course we want him out there, but in a way, I think everyone is almost looking forward to see what they can do and how they can help this team," Odom said. "When you see Kobe Bryant to down, everyone's going to want to step up."