By JORDAN GARRETSON
Posted Mar 14 2013 12:11PM
The Los Angeles Lakers have looked much more promising in recent weeks as they've made a push for the playoffs. Amid all the challenges they have faced in a tumultuous season, though, the latest might be the most difficult yet.
After a stunning injury to Kobe Bryant, Los Angeles will play its first game without its superstar guard Friday night when they visit the Indiana Pacers.
Bryant is out indefinitely with a severely sprained left ankle suffered on a missed game-tying shot in the closing seconds of a 96-92 loss to Atlanta on Wednesday. He landed on Dahntay Jones' foot and there is no timetable for his return.
The Lakers have 16 games remaining.
"I'll just do what I have to do," said Bryant, among the league leaders with 27.5 points per game.
Jones wasn't called for a foul on the play, which Bryant felt was dirty because Jones slid under him.
"I can't get my mind past the fact that I have to wait a year to get revenge," he said, as Los Angeles won't face Atlanta again until next season. "It's just a very, very dangerous play, especially when I'm fading away."
The Lakers (34-32) have recently found their stride in a season marked by lack of chemistry, occasional discord and injury, winning four straight and 17 of 23 prior to Wednesday. They own a half-game lead over the Jazz for eighth place in the Western Conference.
Jodie Meeks would likely figure to start in place of Bryant. Meeks is averaging 8.0 points in 19.1 minutes per game.
With Bryant out, the Lakers will almost certainly lean more heavily on center Dwight Howard, who has finally returned to form with 21.8 points and 16.2 rebounds over his last five contests. He averaged 15.9 points and 12.1 boards in his first 55 games.
Indiana center Roy Hibbert, like Howard, has been surging lately after some inconsistent play. Hibbert has scored 16.8 points per game while shooting 56.3 percent in his last six, compared to 10.0 and 42.0 in the previous 57.
He scored a season-high 27 with 12 rebounds in a 107-91 home win over Minnesota on Wednesday.
"You could see in his body language, he's just playing more confident," coach Frank Vogel told the team's official website. "We said all along that it was going to be a process and that he would snap out of it. He's playing well, not just tonight, but over the last few weeks."
The Pacers (40-24) need Hibbert to continue his strong production with Danny Granger out at least two more games due to knee soreness. Granger, who will have the knee re-evaluated at the end of the week, has missed all but five games and sat out four straight since that brief five-game return.
Granger didn't play in the teams' first meeting, a 79-77 Pacers road win Nov. 27. Bryant had 40 points and 10 rebounds, but the Lakers shot 31.9 percent. George Hill led Indiana with 19 points and David West added 16, 10 boards, eight assists and two blocks.
The Lakers have won three of the teams' last four matchups in Indianapolis, but that was with Bryant averaging 30.0 points in those contests.
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