Coach Phil Jackson knew better, because he'd gone through this before with another superstar -- Michael Jordan.
Bryant scored 16 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter despite a viral upper respiratory infection, Andrew Bynum had 25 points and a career-high 17 rebounds, and the Lakers beat the Milwaukee Bucks 110-105 Friday night for their season-high fifth straight victory.
"I got a couple of reports before the game about his condition and where he was at," Jackson said. "He had some nausea and some headaches and dizziness. But he said he's be ready to play, and he was."
Bryant's under-the-weather performance wasn't quite as over-the-top or as significant as Jordan's was in Game 5 of the 1997 NBA Finals against the Utah Jazz, when the flu-ridden Chicago Bulls guard got out of a sick bed to shoot 13-for-27 and score 38 points in 44 minutes to lead his team to a 90-88 win. But it was impressive nonetheless.
"Michael did a lot of throwing up and he had to get quite a few IVs -- one of them just to get on the floor -- and he was up all night," Jackson recalled. "Kobe had a situation like that in Sacramento in the playoffs and played in that ballgame. So he's played through this type of thing before."
Bryant shot 12-for-25 in 37 minutes and made five 3-pointers, leaving him one shy of 1,000 for his career. He also had seven assists and five rebounds and converted all eight free throws.
Bryant played the entire first quarter, scoring his first 16 points during the final 4:34 of the period before taking a breather early in the second. His first three baskets came on 3-point shots during a 62-second span, and he capped that scoring binge by flying under the basket past 7-foot center Andrew Bogut and making a reverse layup.
Bryant wore a towel over his head during every rest period on the bench to keep the chill from the refrigerated hockey rink underneath the court at a minimum -- while his healthy teammates managed to maintain their slim lead though the rest of the first half.
"Early in the ballgame I was feeling real weak and I was trying to find a rhythm, but I was able to muscle through it," said Bryant, who was constantly coughing into hand while speaking with reporters. "I was just trying to focus on the execution and find little things to motivate me. We hadn't beaten them in a couple of years, and we let that last game at their place get away, so that was enough motivation for me to come out and perform."
Mo Williams scored 28 points for the Bucks, who dropped to 0-7 on Friday nights this season. Michael Redd returned to the Milwaukee lineup and came off the bench for the first time this season, scoring 22 points in 25 minutes after missing four games because of a deep bruise in his left thigh.
"I haven't come off the bench in years, but I approached Coach about it just to work my way back in tonight and not just get thrown back into the fire," Redd said. "I remember when LeBron [James] did it. He had come back from an injury and we talked about it. It was the right thing to do. I contributed as best I could."
The Lakers won for the 15th time in 18 games and climbed within a half-game of first-place Phoenix in the Pacific Division. Their surge began four games after Jackson agreed to a two-year, $24 million contract extension on Nov. 29. The Lakers' next victory will tie Jackson with Bill Fitch, his coach at the University of North Dakota, for sixth place among NBA coaches at 944.
This is the first time the Lakers have started a calendar year 5-0 since 2002. The franchise record for most consecutive wins to start a new year is nine, which was set in 1963, the team's third season in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles began the fourth quarter with a 14-0 run to open up a 90-76 lead with 9:26 to play. Bryant sank three free throws after getting fouled behind the arc by Charlie Bell, then set up a reverse dunk by Trevor Ariza with a no-look pass over his head with his back to the basket.
Bryant capped the rally with a 14-foot turnaround jumper, and Milwaukee got no closer than the final outcome.
Friday's ruling by the NBA that the final 51.9 seconds of Atlanta's 117-111 overtime win over Miami on Dec. 19 would be replayed was a major topic of pregame discussion at Staples Center. The last time a game elicited that kind of decision by the league was after the Lakers beat the Spurs 137-132 in 2OT at San Antonio on Nov. 30, 1982. "We were down 3 and I was at the free-throw line," recalled former Lakers G Norm Nixon, who works for Fox Sports Net as an NBA analyst for local cable telecasts. "I made the first one and faked the second one. They called a jump ball -- but there was a double lane violation, so I should have shot the second free throw. I ended up scoring a basket to tie it, then we won the game in double overtime. They protested, and the next time we went there we ended up losing two games in one night."