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Sore shoulder sidelines Bryant again

Posted: Sunday, March 07, 2004

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) Kobe Bryant could be sidelined up to a month with a sprained right shoulder, the same injury that kept the Lakers' star guard out for six games two months ago.

He also had offseason surgery to repair torn tissue in the same shoulder.

''We try to be optimistic, but it looks like he could be out for a while,'' Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said Saturday after practice.

Bryant doesn't believe this injury is as bad as the one that kept him out earlier, and he apparently doesn't expect to miss a month.

''He was optimistic when he came in this morning, which is a very good sign,'' Jackson said. ''He felt that he would be back in a few games, so he thought it was nothing like the last time when he had to sit out.''

Jackson said Bryant will be re-evaluated after the Lakers' next road trip, which begins Monday in Utah and ends Saturday in Chicago. If Bryant has to miss a month, he still would be back before the NBA playoffs begin April 17.

Leading the Lakers in scoring with a 22.4 average, Bryant reinjured his shoulder trying to fight through a pick. He banged into Reggie Evans 54 seconds after tip-off in Friday's 99-91 victory over Seattle. Dr. Steve Lombardo diagnosed the injury as a sprained acromio-clavicular joint.

Bryant is facing trial in Eagle, Colo., on rape charges and missed a recent game to attend a pretrial hearing. He claims the sex was consensual.

His latest injury is still another blow in a tumultuous season for the star-laden Lakers. He goes out just as Karl Malone is close to returning after being sidelined since Dec. 21 with a torn right knee ligament.

''We know Kobe wants to be out there,'' Malone said. ''But we also knows he wants to be healthy. It's kind of weird, because after the All-Star break he was just getting healthy. Then this happens.''

The Lakers' quartet of Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal, Gary Payton and Malone has played together in only 21 of 61 games. Payton is the only one who has played every game, and the others have missed a combined 68 games.

Los Angeles is 16-5 with the four stars on the floor.

Bryant first sprained the shoulder Jan. 12 in a collision with Cleveland's Kedrick Brown. Bryant returned Jan. 24, but after playing two games, he missed another seven with a cut on his right index finger, which he said he hurt in an accident in his garage.

''Hopefully, we'll be a team that's deep enough to make it through a season and win a championship amidst the injuries and the off-court stress,'' the Lakers' Rick Fox said after Bryant was hurt. ''It would make it sweet, that's for sure.

''Considering what was put on paper at the beginning of the year and how everyone crowned us champions already, maybe this is the way it has to be and the only way it was going to be.''

Bryant has been able to play through injuries much of his career, but in addition to having the shoulder surgery, he had knee surgery during the past offseason and wasn't able to work out as much as usual.



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