EL SEGUNDO — Kobe Bryant is expected to miss about six weeks with an injured left knee, dealing the second major injury setback of the year to the Los Angeles Lakers’ superstar guard.
An MRI exam on Thursday revealed Bryant has a fracture in his lateral tibial plateau — the top of his shinbone near his knee.
Bryant made his season debut with the Lakers Dec. 8 after nearly eight months away while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. He apparently was hurt again Tuesday night in Memphis while playing his fourth game in five nights.
After playing six games in 10 days, the fourth-leading scorer in NBA history is out again until February or longer — and the Lakers’ already miserable run of injuries got even uglier.
“You hate it for Kobe,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni told reporters after practice Thursday. “He’s worked so hard to get back, but he’ll be back. He’ll be back in six weeks. We’ve just got to weather the storm until he gets back.”
The Lakers also announced Steve Nash will be out for at least four more weeks with nerve root irritation, leaving injury-riddled Los Angeles without its top three point guards and Bryant — who filled in at the point in recent games — for at least another week.
On Thursday afternoon, a tweet was posted on Bryant’s official Twitter account that consisted solely of the hashtag: BrokenNotBeaten.
“I think he’ll be back in six weeks, and he’ll be hunting for some bear,” D’Antoni said.
The rest of the Lakers found out about Bryant’s injury after practice for Friday’s home game against Minnesota. The remnants of the Lakers, who have lost four of six since Bryant’s return, also will host Miami on Christmas Day.
“It’s hard to get this type of news, especially when we’ve got already so many injuries, when we’ve been through so many injuries the year before,” Pau Gasol said. “It just keeps piling up. It’s not the best thing for us, for sure, but we’ve just got to continue to go forward. We understand it can happen.”
D’Antoni immediately faced questions about whether the Lakers allowed Bryant to return too quickly from his torn Achilles tendon. Athletes with an Achilles injury must remain immobile for months, and they typically need several weeks to regain muscle in their legs and get back into game shape.
Bryant pushed himself to return to the Lakers quickly, but his left leg appeared to be visibly smaller than his right leg after months of inactivity and atrophy. D’Antoni and the Lakers’ top brass often joke about their inability to control Bryant’s relentless determination to play, even at the risk of his own health.
“It could happen at any time,” D’Antoni said of Bryant’s latest injury. “That’s part of it. There’s always going to be a risk until he gets used to playing, but the doctors are all over it. That’s just bad luck.”
Los Angeles signed Bryant to a lavish two-year, $48.5 million contract extension last month, taking him into his 20th season with the Lakers. Most of Los Angeles’ roster will be free agents this summer.
Bryant matched his season high with 21 points in the Lakers’ win at Memphis, but he went to the floor with 3:25 left in the third quarter. He stayed on the floor briefly before standing up, and Bryant bent over at the waist as he flexed his left leg back and forth. He walked to the bench with trainer Gary Vitti, but returned to the floor following the timeout.
He hit a deep 3-pointer late in the fourth quarter to help clinch the win and finished playing more than 32 minutes. Bryant said after the game that he twisted his knee, but it felt all right.
“I just hyperextended it,” Bryant said when asked to describe what happened on the play. “I tend to hyperextend my knees every now and then.”
Buried behind the implications of Bryant’s latest injury, the Lakers got yet more bad news about the 39-year-old Nash, who has been injured for most of his two seasons in Los Angeles. The two-time NBA MVP has played in just six games this season and hasn’t suited up since Nov. 10, repeatedly traveling home to Vancouver to undergo rehabilitation on his perpetually balky back and hamstrings.
Nash made it clear another month off is just a rough guideline for his return.
“I think I’m making strides for sure,” Nash said. “I think the biggest thing is durability. There’s such a fine line when I do get up to speed where I can do a lot of stuff. To be able to sustain it is the key right now. I know I can get back to an acceptable level of movement. It’s just a matter of how long I can sustain it.”
Xavier Henry, the 6-foot-6 shooting guard who has been a pleasant surprise in his first year with Los Angeles, is the Lakers’ new starting point guard, D’Antoni said. While Nash, Bryant and Steve Blake are out with long-term injuries, Jordan Farmar will be re-evaluated Tuesday in his return from a torn hamstring, with the Lakers hoping he’ll be back before January.