Kobe's knee keeps him out of opener, following game

Updated: November 1, 2006, 2:27 AM ET
Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant didn't play in the Los Angeles Lakers' season opener against the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night because of soreness in his surgically repaired right knee.

Kobe Bryant
Bryant

"This morning it was a little sore," said Bryant, the NBA scoring champion last season with a 35.4-point average -- the league's highest in 19 years. "The thing about the knee is you want to string together a few days where it feels good."

The 28-year-old Bryant raved after practice Monday that his knee felt very good, and he thought he would play in the opener. But the positive feelings didn't last. He made no attempt to hide his disappointment some 90 minutes before the Lakers faced the Phoenix Suns.

"Man, it's tough considering who we're playing, the start of the season," he said before the Lakers took the court without him and still beat the Suns 114-106. "It's a big night. It was starting to get to me a little bit where I was going to push through it."

Bryant was on the bench on Tuesday night in street clothes and spoke briefly to the capacity crowd of 18,997 at Staples Center before the game.

Bryant underwent arthroscopic surgery in mid-July, and missed the Lakers' eight exhibition games. He said he wouldn't travel for Wednesday night's game at Golden State, either, but hoped to return either Friday night against Seattle at home or Sunday night at Seattle.

"It's a possibility," he said with a smile. "I'm extremely optimistic -- I'm an optimistic person by nature. It's such a day-to-day thing with this knee. It's much better than it was a week ago. It's just been a process building it up."

Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who is recovering from hip replacement surgery, was on the bench on Tuesday but didn't travel to Golden State for Wednesday night's game either. Assistant Kurt Rambis will fill in, just as he did during the exhibition season. Jackson said he hopes to coach in the Lakers' next road game -- Sunday night at Seattle.

Jackson said he concurred with Bryant's decision and didn't have a timetable on the superstar guard's return.

"I just think it's been sore, some discomfort there after some hard work," Jackson said. "It's going to be a big hole in our offense, without a doubt. I'm sure the fans will be disappointed."

The game was the Lakers' first since they were embarrassed 121-90 by the Suns in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series last spring. Phoenix rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the series.

"At this point of the season, everybody's health has got to be a priority," Suns guard Raja Bell said concerning Bryant's absence. Bell received a one-game suspension for clotheslining Bryant in the fourth quarter of Game 5.

"I guess he's not ready," Suns coach Mike D'Antoni said. "It's too bad for him, too bad for the league. We've got to take advantage of it."

The Lakers also were without centers Kwame Brown (shoulder) and Chris Mihm (ankle) and guard Aaron McKie (back). Brown and Mihm are expected to be sidelined at least two more weeks. In their absence, 19-year-old Andrew Bynum was to make his first career start against the Suns.

"He's played aggressively in the last two [exhibition] games," Jackson said. "He should be nervous -- I think it's a natural thing."


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press