Hundreds of purple and gold clad spectators turned out in FedExForum Tuesday night to witness the Memphis Grizzlies play host to the Los Angeles Lakers, many of whom wore Kobe Bryant’s No. 24 jersey.
Whether they will get a glimpse of Bryant when the Lakers return to Memphis Feb. 26 remains a mystery.
That’s because on Thursday, the Lakers announced that Bryant will likely miss up to six weeks after an MRI revealed a fracture of the lateral tibial plateau in his left knee he sustained in Tuesday’s 96-92 win against Memphis.
Bryant’s injury occurred at the 3:25 mark of the third quarter after he backed Grizzlies shooting guard Tony Allen in the post. He returned to the game following a timeout and ultimately steered the Lakers to their second win since his return to the lineup Dec. 8 against Toronto.
In what was his best shooting display since his return from a torn Achilles tendon he suffered in early April, Bryant matched his season-high with 21 points on 9-of-18 shooting. His deep 3-pointer with 2:39 remaining in the fourth essentially preserved the win for the injury-plague Lakers, who were already without guards Steve Nash, Jordan Farmar, and Steve Blake to an assortment of injuries.
After the game, Bryant — who sat in front of his locker soaking both legs in an ice bucket — didn’t appear as if his knee injury was a serious issue.
“I feel alright,” Bryant told MemphiSport when asked how he felt after playing his sixth game since rejoining the Lakers. “You know, it felt good. I felt like I went out there tonight and was really, really assertive and played well.”
Given his inspiring performance against the Grizzlies in which he played 32-plus minutes but played sparingly in the final frame before making his clutch basket, the 35-year-old Bryant seemed on pace to re-asserting himself as one of the league’s most efficient scorers.
“We’ll see,” Bryant said when asked if he could be just as effective in the aftermath of his Achilles injury.
Now after news spread Thursday of his latest setback that could likely sideline him for up to two months, many around the league are wondering if Bryant’s best days as one of the league’s elite players are behind him.
As far as Bryant is concerned, he appeared unaffected by the fracture to his knee.
Said Bryant — the Western Conference’s second-leading vote-getter for the 2014 All-Star Game — via Twitter Thursday afternoon: “BrokenNotBeaten.”
Following Tuesday’s game against the Grizzlies, Bryant spoke of how essential it is that he steadily works himself back into playing shape, in large part because center Pau Gasol is becoming more acclimated to coach Mike D’Antoni’s system. Gasol, a 13-year veteran, publicly expressed dissatisfaction for how he was being used in the lineup, but has since made considerable progress although the 7-foot Spaniard is shooting a career-low 42.6 percent from the field.
“I’ve got to crank it up at some point and get back to being myself,” said Bryant who, in late November, signed a two-year, $48.5 million contract extension. “I’ve got to get better, improving my timing and rhythm and things like that. It’ll come.”
However, given Thursday’s devastating news for the Lakers, who already were hampered by a slew of injuries at the guard position, whether Bryant will ever return to form remains a mystery.