- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Before the upcoming game Sunday between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat turned into an overhyped matchup because of the possibility of payback for Dwyane Wade's foul across Kobe Bryant's face in the NBA All-Star Game, Bryant wanted to clear the air.
"I've known Dwyane for years now," Bryant said after the Lakers' 104-85 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, a game in which Bryant was cleared to play shortly before tipoff after appearing asymptomatic from the concussion Wade's hit caused. "It's always entertaining to me to hear people talk about our relationship as if they know really what's going on and try to say there's something between them and all this other stuff. It was very simple. It was very simple. He didn't mean to do it. It's just something that just happens. He's not that type of person."
Wade told reporters in Miami on Tuesday that he apologized to Bryant privately and reiterated that he was sorry publicly through the media.
"It's all I can do," Wade said of the message to Bryant. "He knows it's no ill intent of me to do that to him. Talk about me for taking the foul, but I never wanted that kind of outcome."
Bryant and Wade have been teammates with USA Basketball since 2006, winning gold together at the FIBA Americas tournament in 2007 and at the 2008 Olympics.
"We've been close friends for a long time," Bryant said. "Myself, Melo (Carmelo Anthony) and him. We've been really, really close."
When asked if Bryant's respect for Wade was forged through their shared killer instinct on the basketball court, Bryant swerved the opposite direction.
"He's a nicer guy than I am, to be honest with you," Bryant said. "He's just not the type of person who would intentionally do something like that."
Intentional or not, Bryant's teammate Matt Barnes sounded ready to protect Bryant on the court moving forward.
"Ron (Metta World Peace) and I have been calm all year, but if teams are going to start playing like this, we love it," Barnes said. "[The officials] like to call ticky-tack stuff on us. We really don't get to be too physical. If me and Ron act like we're going to do something, we get flagrant fouls called on us. So hopefully they're going to let us play. If they're going to let the league be physical, they need to let our team start being physical."
World Peace did not join Barnes in the fray.
"I'm just playing basketball, I don't have nothing to do with that controversial style basketball," World Peace said. "Let the refs handle it. That's the refs' job, that's the NBA's job to handle it. Let them do their job."
Bryant was aware that there would likely be controversy leading up to Sunday's game at Staples Center even with him and Wade being friends.
"All that matters is what our relationship is like, really. We communicated. It's all good," Bryant said. "But here in L.A. I'm sure his perception has definitely been altered."
Bryant's post-concussion form was hardly altered from his level of play during the first half of the season. He showed little signs of rust after not participating in the Lakers' practice Tuesday or shootaround on Wednesday.
Bryant played all 12 minutes of the first quarter, racking up 10 points, three assists and two rebounds in the opening frame as the Lakers ran out to an early 26-18 lead. He went on to finish with a game-high 31 points on 11-for-23 shooting to go with seven rebounds and eight assists in 33 minutes.
Bryant's effort left Lakers coach Mike Brown in awe.
"Kobe's a special human being," Brown said. "I don't have answers for him. I don't know what he's made of. He just thinks different. He is different. His body reacts different."
Before checking back in the game with 6:27 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Lakers up 89-70, Bryant's head and neck were massaged by the Lakers' director of physical therapy, Dr. Judy Seto. Bryant added seven more points in less than four minutes in the fourth quarter before checking out for good with 2:46 remaining and the Lakers up 100-76.
Bryant wore a bandage covering his lower neck after the game and said he was still experiencing lingering pain.
"Everything is kind of in the neck," Bryant said. "You just have a lot of pressure in the bottom of your neck. It just feels like it's just constant throbbing at the base of my head where my neck is. It's just kind of getting those muscles to relax a little bit and I'll be OK."
There are known treatment options to improve his neck. It wasn't quite as easy with Bryant's concussion. Bryant said he knew right away that something was off when Wade fouled him early in the third quarter of Sunday's All-Star Game, but he went on to play 14 more minutes and score 11 more points after sustaining the concussion.
"Finishing the All-Star Game with a concussion was pretty gnarly," said Bryant, who said he felt nauseous and experienced blurred vision immediately following the game. "Things just seemed a little weird."
The NBA enacted a new concussion policy prior to the lockout-shortened 2011-12 NBA season that required Bryant to pass a series of tests without having any concussion symptoms return before he'd be cleared to play.
"It's been an experience. I've never had (a concussion) before, so it was an experience," Bryant said. "It's a serious issue. You can't take it lightly. You have to go through those processes and make sure you're good to go."
As for his nasal fracture, the 16-year veteran said his nose was still "tender" so he would continue to wear a protective mask during games for the foreseeable future.
"It was fine," Bryant said. "You just start sweating immediately inside of it. It just felt like I had a sauna on my face. Like I was drinking my own sweat because it was leaking out. It was a mess. It was totally disgusting."
Bryant laughed when asked by a reporter if anybody had started calling him the "Masked Mamba" yet.
"I can roll with that," Bryant said with a smile.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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