The Los Angeles Lakers' journey back to above the .500 mark was very nearly put in grave danger on Tuesday night.
Star guard Kobe Bryant had left the Lakers’ Tuesday night contest versus the Oklahoma City Thunder with an ulnar nerve contusion and was questionable to return, per Mike Bresnahan of the Los Angeles Times.
Kobe's officially got an ulnar-nerve contusion. That's a bruised funny bone. Return questionable. #Lakers— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) March 6, 2013
However, Bryant returned to the game with 4:01 remaining in the first quarter—much to the delight of Lakers fans everywhere (per the OC Register's Kevin Ding):
Kobe is coming back in.— KEVIN DING (@KevinDing) March 6, 2013
Bryant was injured on a seemingly innocuous play early in the first quarter. Trying to create separation from Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha in an off-ball situation, Bryant pushed off in an attempt to take a pass from Steve Nash. Sefolosha gave little room and their arms seemed to collide, whereupon Bryant began shaking his arm in noticeable pain.
He was just 0-of-1 from the field at the time of his injury, as the Thunder stormed out to an early lead. By the time Bryant returned, Oklahoma City had stretched its lead to 21-14 and given itself a nice little cushion while the All-Star guard was absent.
Though he returned to the contest, one has to wonder what effect (if any) the contusion will have on his shot selection. Bryant has been absolutely phenomenal of late, scoring 34.8 points per game on 56.9 percent shooting over his past five games. The Lakers won four of those contests, a mini streak that brought them into Thursday night’s game versus Oklahoma City with a chance to go over the .500 mark for the first time since they were 6-5.
If Bryant is limited by his injury, one has to wonder whether the Lakers have a chance versus the defending Western Conference champions. Either way, it will certainly be interesting to see how Bryant and the team respond to his injury.