ATLANTA — Kobe Bryant was unhappy.
Fuming, actually, as he talked about a severely sprained left ankle that would keep him out “indefinitely,” according to the Lakers.
Bryant suggested that Atlanta Hawks swingman Dahntay Jones caused the sprain by purposely sliding his foot under Bryant while Bryant was still in the air on an 18-foot fadeaway jumper with 3.9 seconds left.
Bryant missed the shot and stayed down on the court for about a minute, limping to the locker room for X-rays that showed no broken bones after the Lakers’ 96-92 loss Wednesday at Philips Arena.
“First and foremost, I think the officials really need to protect shooters,” Bryant said. “Defensive players, you can contest shots, but you can’t walk underneath players.”
“It’s just a very, very dangerous play, especially if I’m fading away. There’s no rhyme or reason why I should come down anywhere near somebody’s foot.”
Jones said on Twitter he was not trying to hurt Bryant, who scored 20 of his 31 points in the third quarter.
“Tape doesn’t lie,” Jones said. “[Bryant’s] ankle was turned on the floor after the leg kick out that knocked him off balance. I would never try to hurt the man.”
He added later, presumably responding to angry Lakers fans who contacted him on Twitter, “Leg kick that makes contact with a defensive player is an offense foul. Period. The nba changed that rule 2 yrs ago. Stop it!”
No foul was called on the play, when a basket would have tied the score. Replays were inconclusive.
Bryant and Jones have a history. Jones was assessed a flagrant foul for tripping Bryant while with Denver in the 2009 Western Conference finals.
Bryant certainly wasn’t thrilled with him after Wednesday’s game, saying, “I can’t get my mind past the fact that I’ve got to wait a year to get revenge.”
Bryant said it was his worst ankle sprain since coming down on Jalen Rose’s foot in Game 2 of the 2000 NBA Finals against Indiana.
Bryant missed Game 3 in the series won by the Lakers in six. Rose later admitted he slid his foot under Bryant on purpose.
The Lakers’ next game is Friday at Indiana. Bryant has a high threshold for pain, but he was still limping heavily after emerging from a long stay in the trainer’s room Wednesday.
He saw a smattering of reporters and grabbed the closest chair he could find.
His three-word answer on whether he would play Friday: “I don’t know.”
Bryant would have been in a dour mood even without the injury. He didn’t play well and the Lakers (34-32) lost one they should have won.
A victory was theirs for the taking, the Hawks missing starters Josh Smith and Jeff Teague because of injuries and trotting out a lineup of Al Horford and four journeymen.
But the Lakers coughed up a four-game winning streak, Bryant making only 11 of 33 shots.
His backcourt mate wasn’t any better.
“I feel like I killed us tonight,” said Steve Nash, who had 11 points on four-for-14 shooting.
The Lakers led, 80-76, with 10 minutes left but lost control of the game by missing seven consecutive shots, five of them three-pointers, most of them uncontested.
Curiously, Dwight Howard had one shot in the fourth quarter, a miss, and finished with 10 points on five-for-nine shooting the night after his most triumphant game with the Lakers.
“We’ll come back and get it the next game. I’m not going to be disappointed,” said Howard, who had 16 rebounds.
Not to be ignored, Earl Clark sustained a sprained right ankle, leaving the game early in the third quarter. X-rays were also negative for him and he said he would play Friday.
Clark was injured when he came down on Howard’s foot while pursuing a rebound earlier in the game, he said.
The Lakers trailed at halftime, 55-43, with Bryant sitting on one-for-eight shooting and Howard getting outplayed by Johan Retro.
But after trailing New Orleans by 25 and Charlotte by 20 before winning, what was a lousy 12-point deficit?
Too much, it turned out.
Devin Harris had 17 points and seven assists for the Hawks (35-29), who won despite scoring 41 points in the second half.
About the only good news for the Lakers was Utah getting blown out by Oklahoma City, allowing the Lakers to maintain a half-game edge over the Jazz (33-32) for the West’s eighth and final playoff spot.
All eyes now turn to Bryant. The Lakers’ season is on hold until he returns.
–Mike Bresnahan, Los Angeles Times