Kobe Bryant turns pain on Clippers

LOS ANGELES -- As Kobe Bryant buried his face in a folded towel for close to two minutes on the Los Angeles Lakers' bench, he knew the pain radiating through his right arm would go away eventually. He just didn't know when, and he certainly didn't want anyone to see his grimacing face until it did.

"It hurt like a m-----f----r," Bryant said afterward.

The official diagnosis of the injury Bryant suffered in the second quarter of the Lakers' 108-95 win over the Clippers was an "ulnar nerve contusion," which is medical-speak for "banged-up funny bone." Bryant's face, however, made the injury seem far from funny as he went to the locker room with three minutes left before halftime.

While in the locker room, Bryant worked with Lakers athletic performance coordinator Alex McKechnie on his range of motion. Bryant had suffered a similar injury last season in Sacramento, and the biggest short-term problem is the ability to raise your hands above your head to shoot or pass the ball.

"When I came in I had Alex work on my range, and try to get my elbow back enough where I could shoot the ball, and he was able to do that," Bryant said. "After that it was fine."

With a purple sleeve on his right arm, Bryant started the second half and made six of his first eight shots for 14 points. He would finish the quarter with 18 points, outscoring the Clippers by one in the quarter. Bryant finished the game with 24 points on 10-for-16 shooting as the Lakers went up by as many as 26 points after only leading 52-50 at the half.

Perhaps even more impressive than Bryant's third-quarter scoring barrage was his ability to change his shot during the intermission. It was the equivalent of a batter changing his batting stance between innings or a golfer changing his swing between rounds and improving without a single hiccup.

"I had to change the rhythm to the shot a little bit," Bryant said. "I've been playing basketball since I was 2. I can shoot the ball different ways. I don't have to shoot it like I normally shoot it. I can shorten up. If I bend the elbow too much that's when I feel it, so I shorten it up."

After Bryant limped to the bench after protesting a foul on Clippers guard Randy Foye from beyond the arc with 3:03 left in the third quarter, he scowled as he sat in front of Lakers trainer Gary Vitti. They both knew what it was immediately.

"Vitti just said it was a funny bone-type thing," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "It wasn't funny, but that's what it is. It's a radiating thing."

While Bryant knew what the injury was, he also knew that if he wasn't able to get loose and get his range back, he would probably not be able to return to the game.

"I was familiar with it," Bryant said. "It had happened before. I just didn't want it to be as bad as it was before in Sacramento where I couldn't get the ball over my head, so we jumped on it early instead of letting it sit, and I felt like I had pretty good range."

When Bryant returned in the second half, he said he tried to forget about the injury despite the new sleeve, new shooting motion and stinging sensation when he bent his elbow too far. After each one of Bryant's shots in the second half, he let his right arm hang. He finally ran back to the locker room to get further treatment on his arm with 3:50 left in the game.

"I don't want to think about it," Bryant said. "I don't want to talk about it. I want to act like it's not there."

Bryant's performance highlighted the Lakers' current three-game winning streak coming off their three-game losing streak to Orlando, Charlotte and Cleveland heading into the All-Star break. Before the game, even some Clippers were trying to figure out which Lakers team they would see.

"The Lakers are a great team; they're just having some issues. I don't know whether it's internally or what it is, but they're just struggling, because I look at their team and they should be a powerhouse," said Clippers center Chris Kaman. "Sometimes it's just boggling how they could lose to certain teams. Everybody is gunning for them. They got a bull's-eye. You always want to beat the Lakers. It's a big thing."

Improving their standing in the playoffs and winning games now appears to be a big thing for a Lakers team that has seemed to struggle to stay motivated during the season. That doesn't seem to be a problem anymore, and certainly not for Bryant with only 22 games left in the regular season.

"We're playing well," Bryant said. "We're doing the right things defensively. We're playing games and holding teams down. I think the rest helped a lot. The rest rejuvenated us and sharpened our focus up with 20-something games left."

Before Bryant left the locker room Friday night, he was asked if he would need to take any medicine to play against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

"I'm tough as s---," Bryant said. "That's the medicine I'm on."

Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.