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Life without Kobe

Lakers guard may sit out Game 3

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Posted: Sunday June 11, 2000 12:35 AM

  Because of the Lakers' 2-0 lead, Kobe Bryant doesn't feel any pressure to return for Game 3. AP

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- The Los Angeles Lakers discovered eight months ago what life was like without Kobe Bryant. That lesson might come in handy in Game 3 of the NBA Finals.

Bryant sprained his left ankle and left the game late in the first quarter Friday night, but the Lakers survived.

They beat the Indiana Pacers 111-104 to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, which resumes Sunday night at Conseco Fieldhouse.

Bryant was on crutches on Saturday, and his status is uncertain, but the Lakers' lead makes it easier for him to consider sitting out. Since Game 4 isn't until Wednesday night, he would have four full days to recuperate.

"It's not a do-or-die situation for me to play Sunday," he said. "The doctors probably will try to keep me out. If I'm ready to go, if I can walk and put pressure on it, I'll be ready to play."

Bryant missed the season's first 15 games after breaking his right hand on Oct. 13 in the exhibition opener. The Lakers went 11-4.

"It feels a lot better than it did yesterday. Yesterday, I couldn't even walk on it," Bryant said of the heavily taped ankle. "Today I can put a little bit of pressure on it, so it feels a lot better. Fortunately, it was not a fracture. The X-ray was negative, so I'm happy about that.

"Last night, I didn't go to sleep, just did my exercises all night long. If the game was tonight, I probably wouldn't play," he said. "I'm sure the doctor's going to have something to say about it. Personally, I would love to play, but sometimes the doctor knows best."

The Lakers have learned to play, to win, without Bryant, said Brian Shaw, who figures to start Game 3 if Bryant can't play. "We gained confidence early in the season we could win without him. I don't think there was a dropoff when he went out."

Shaw hit just one of nine shots and scored four points Friday, but Glen Rice and Ron Harper scored 21 points each -- far above their playoff averages -- to pick up the slack.

"It's not something we like, but it is something we know how to deal with," Lakers forward Rick Fox said of Bryant's injury.

"As long as we have five men on the floor, we're OK," Harper said.

Shaquille O'Neal, who had 40 points and 24 rebounds, said he felt he had to step it up when Bryant went out.

"We have a lot of guys, we have a lot of weapons on this team," O'Neal said.

Bryant, a second-team All-NBA selection as well as first-team all-defensive pick, was injured while making his only shot of the game, a 17-foot jumper with 3:26 left in the first quarter that gave the Lakers a 22-20 lead.

He landed on defender Jalen Rose's foot and suddenly was on his back, writhing in pain.

When he got to his feet, Bryant immediately began to hobble. Twenty-one seconds later, finally with a break in the action, Bryant was helped off the court.

"It was just pain; it was just flat-out pain," he said. "Normally when you get a sprained ankle, you can pretty much push off the back of your heel. Then when you try to raise up on your toes, you feel pain shooting up and down your ankle."

Rice, 1-of-8 while scoring three points in Game 1, made seven of 15 shots, including 5-of-6 from 3-point range. His point total equaled his high in this year's playoffs.

"Once I hit a couple, the confidence went up," he said. "One of the things we were doing is moving the ball around. Everyone stepped up, realizing we lost a big player."

Harper, forced to play more minutes than usual -- 37 -- and become more of a scorer as well because of Bryant's injury, made four free throws in the final 32.5 seconds to clinch the victory. The 36-year-old Harper played on championship teams in Chicago from 1996-98 under Phil Jackson, now the Lakers' coach.

"Somehow, I found some energy," Harper said. "I just came out and did the things I had to do. We are a team that is trying to do something here, so whenever a guy gets hurt, we need to have guys that step in his spot. We know we're a good basketball team, even when a guy goes down."

 
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L.A. head coach Phil Jackson will leave it up to Kobe Bryant if he is to return to play in Game 3. (142 K)
L.A.'s Kobe Bryant sums up his status. (56 K)
Bryant can now put pressure on the injured ankle. (59 K)
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L.A.'s Glen Rice thinks the Lakers maturity level has allowed them to overcome the loss of Bryant. (85 K)
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