ATLANTA (AP) — Just when the Lakers were finally looking like the team everyone expected them to be, Kobe Bryant crumpled to the court.
Now, that playoff push in Los Angeles looks a lot more tenuous.
Bryant went down with a severely sprained left ankle after missing a game-tying shot in the closing seconds of a 96-92 loss to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night.
While X-rays were negative, the Lakers said their star was out indefinitely. Bryant conceded it was the worst ankle sprain of his 16-year career but wouldn't speculate on how long he might be out.
"I'll just do what I have to do," the 34-year-old said.
With 16 games left in the regular season, Los Angeles holds a half-game lead over Utah for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Given where the Lakers came from, just making the postseason would be quite an accomplishment. They were 20-26 at the end of January, but have won 14 of 20 and nine of their last 12.
The loss in Atlanta snapped a four-game winning streak.
It might hurt longer than a single night.
With the Lakers trailing 94-92, Bryant drove to the baseline and pulled up for a jumper with about 3 seconds remaining. The ball slid off the rim, and Bryant's left foot twisted awkwardly when it came down on the right foot of defender Dahntay Jones.
No foul was called, but the Lakers star accused Jones of playing dirty, saying he slid underneath the shooter as he was coming down.
"That's a shot I'm very comfortable taking," said Bryant, who is averaging 27.5 points a game and almost single-handedly carried the Lakers back into playoff contention. "You just can't go under these shooters, man. It's a dangerous play."