Lakers’ Kobe Bryant gets backing around league on Dahntay Jones play


INDIANAPOLIS — The debate raged around the NBA on Thursday as Kobe Bryant iced his severely sprained left ankle and mixed in some compression therapy to reduce swelling while he watched the movies “Django Unchained” and “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Was the play dirty, clean or somewhere in between?

Bryant suggested he was injured Wednesday because Atlanta Hawks forward Dahntay Jones knowingly chose to “walk underneath” him while Bryant was coming down from an off-target 18-foot fadeaway in the final seconds of the Lakers’ 96-92 loss to the Hawks.

Bryant appeared to land on Jones’ foot, stayed down for about a minute and soon after was declared out indefinitely by the Lakers.

After the game Bryant said that referees and, in an indirect way, the league, “really need to protect shooters.”

The NBA said Thursday that a foul should have been called on the play and two free throws awarded to Bryant because he was not given “the opportunity to land cleanly back on the floor.”

If Bryant had been able to make the free throws, or if a Lakers player replacing him at the line was similarly successful, the game would have been tied at 94-94 with the Hawks facing about three seconds to win in regulation.

Instead, the Lakers fouled Kyle Korver with 2.6 seconds left and he made both free throws for a four-point lead. The referees were Monty McCutchen, Pat Fraher and Tony Brown.

Jones said he was not trying to hurt Bryant, adding that Bryant brought on the contact himself by kicking out his leg in the air.

Others weren’t so sure.

“It’s not a clean play. It’s a dirty play,” Golden State Warriors Coach Mark Jackson said in a radio interview, according to ESPN 710.

Longtime Lakers foil Bruce Bowen actually sided with Bryant to a degree, a somewhat surprising development from the former player who was similarly accused of sticking his feet under airborne players and was called “Edward Scissorhands” by former Lakers coach Phil Jackson for his rough hands-on play.

“[Jones] took away his space and in the game, you’re supposed to give the offensive player a place to land,” Bowen, the former San Antonio forward, told ESPN radio. “You saw Kobe fade away and you saw Dahntay Jones kind of continue to move in his direction. It should have been a foul call there.”

That was the only protection Bowen offered Bryant.

“I’m not saying that’s dirty on Dahntay’s behalf. A dirty play is taking the guy out of the air where he really has no place to come down as far as clotheslining and things like that,” Bowen said.

“Kobe has his own opinion. He’s trying to protect himself. He knows what he means to his team right now and they cannot afford not to have him at 100%. He’s going to go with, ‘This is a dangerous play, it’s my career that’s at stake.’ I don’t think his career was at stake. Kobe is going to sell it the best way he can.”

Bryant was still angry Thursday, not exactly buying Jones’ defense.

“17yrs. Countless fades. This has happened TWICE,” he wrote on Twitter. “Jalen [Rose] and Now Ankle still very swollen.”

He posted a picture that showed, yes, a very swollen ankle. Bryant later said he had “cried foul” enough and said it was “Big boy pants time for me.”

Bryant did not talk to reporters Thursday, a designated travel day for the Lakers. The Lakers play the Indiana Pacers on Friday before returning home to play Sacramento on Sunday.

Bryant’s historically high pain tolerance could be tested again. He called this his worst ankle sprain since the 2000 NBA Finals, when Indiana forward Jalen Rose purposely stuck a foot under a jump-shooting Bryant and caused him to miss almost two full games.

A sprained ankle is one of the few injuries to sideline Bryant in a career dotted with numerous tweaks and twists.

Bryant missed five games in 2010 and the All-Star game over an 18-day span because of a sprained left ankle. He had a worse time in 2005, missing 14 games because of a sprained right ankle after coming down on the foot of Cleveland’s Ira Newble.

If Bryant is out Friday, Jodie Meeks or Steve Blake will probably take his spot against the Pacers.

“Knowing Kobe, he’ll find some way to get out there,” Lakers forward Earl Clark said optimistically. “Hopefully he’s all right because we definitely need him.”

Bryant didn’t play well against Atlanta, scoring 31 points but missing 22 of 33 shots as the Lakers lost to the injury-weakened Hawks.

The Lakers’ bench shrunk to its early-season self, outscored by the Hawks’ reserves by a 46-16 margin. The list of Hawks scorers included Ivan Johnson (12 points), John Jenkins (12 points) and Shelvin Mack (seven points), names that simply wouldn’t register with casual NBA fans.

The loss, however, registered with Lakers followers, witnesses to plenty of bad ones this season.

If Bryant is out for a long period, more are almost sure to come.