They also lost the one player capable of not just leading them to the playoffs but also causing havoc when they get there.
UPDATE: Thursday, Mar. 14, 8 p.m. ET by Zach Buckley
Lakers star Kobe Bryant severely sprained his ankle in the closing seconds of their 96-92 defeat to the Atlanta Hawks on Wednesday night and was none too happy with how it took place.
He missed a potential game-tying jumper on the baseline and landed awkwardly on the right foot of Atlanta Hawks guard Dahntay Jones. The Lakers star was infuriated by the lack of a foul call on the play and frustrated by what he perceived to be a gross lack of judgment on Jones' part.
The league office responded on Thursday and largely agreed with Bryant's view of the play. Per Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com, the NBA "confirmed that referees missed a foul call" after video review of the play since Jones "did not give (Bryant) the opportunity to land cleanly back on the floor."
Bryant tweeted a pic of the play's grizzly effects on Thursday:
Jones called in to ESPN on Thursday to clarify his view of the play.
---End of update---
Bryant's night came to a disappointing end. He missed a potential game-tying jumper on the baseline, then landed awkwardly on the right foot of Atlanta Hawks guard Dahntay Jones.
Bryant crumbled to the floor, remained there for several seconds, then hobbled over to the L.A. bench with the help of a trainer.
The initial diagnosis brought with it the possible end of the Lakers' semi-magical run:
Kobe Bryant has severely sprained left ankle. His x-rays were negative & he's out indefinitely— Mark Medina (@MarkG_Medina) March 14, 2013
L.A. had won 13 of its last 19 games in its frenetic charge to erase three of the most frustrating months in franchise history. The Lakers remained a half-game clear of the Utah Jazz for the eighth seed in the Western Conference after the Oklahoma City Thunder's 110-87 dismantling of the Jazz.
But talks of playoff hopes and conference positioning quickly lost ground to more spirited discussions about this fateful play.
Bryant blamed both Jones and the refs for it even taking place, offering his own ominous diagnosis in the process:
Kobe said this is as bad a sprain as he's had since 2000 playoffs. He "doesn't know" how it will respond, when he'll return.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) March 14, 2013
He questioned the lack of a foul call, one that would have given L.A. a chance to tie the game at the free-throw line:
Kobe's unhappy w/ Dahntay Jones, whose foot he landed on after fadeaway miss in final seconds. "Officials need to protect shooters," he says— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) March 14, 2013
He went on to question Jones' decision, reiterating his stance on his perceived blunder from the officials:
#dangerousplay that should have been called. Period.— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) March 14, 2013
Bryant stopped short of calling the incident intentional, but he said that defenders should know better than to end up in that spot.
When asked if he felt the play was intentional, Bryant told Dave McMenamin, "I don’t ever want to put that on somebody, I really don’t. I just think players need to be made conscious of it and I think officials need to protect shooters. Period."
Bryant went on to say the gravity of the situation makes it something that sticks with him even on the defensive end:
I’m always conscious of it. When I go to contest shots, I’m always very conscious about making sure I don’t walk underneath them. It’s just a very dangerous play. Especially if I’m fading away, there’s no rhyme or reason why I should come down anywhere near somebody’s foot.
For his part, Jones later denied any wrongdoing and suggested that Bryant may want a quick film session to reassess the situation:
Tape doesn't lie. Ankle was turned on the floor after the leg kick out that knocked him off balance. I would never try to hurt the man— Dahntay (@dahntay1) March 14, 2013
As if things couldn't get any worse for the Lakers star, Bryant's realization that he wouldn't be seeing Jones any time soon left him seething:
Kobe Bryant on Dahntay Jones' part in the play: "I can't get my mind past the fact that I've got to wait a year to get revenge."— Adrian Wojnarowski (@WojYahooNBA) March 14, 2013
Then again, given the players' history, perhaps some time apart won't be as bad as Bryant thinks it will. After all, this wasn't the first time these two had met under less-than-desirable circumstances:
As far as what this means for any future interactions between the pair, Bryant's right: No one will know where this leads for quite some time, save for concurrent miraculous NBA Finals runs from both the Hawks and Lakers.
As for what it means to the Lakers' playoff hopes, though, that's something we'll all learn over the coming weeks.
L.A. gets back to work on Friday night with a game at the Indiana Pacers, then faces a back-to-back set with a home game against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday and a visit to the Phoenix Suns on Monday.
After that, the Lakers are off until a March 22 home game against the Washington Wizards.
On the court, Wednesday's game was one of the rare off nights for Bryant. He finished the game with 31 points but missed 22 of his 33 field-goal attempts, none greater than his last shot of the night.
As coach Mike D'Antoni quipped (via Yahoo! Sports) after the loss, "He can't be Superman every day."
Not with Jones' Kryptonite-laced foot greeting his fall.