NEW YORK — The results of Andrew Bynum's MRI exam finally arrived, and the Lakers almost wished they hadn't -- an estimated eight to 12 weeks of recovery time because of a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee.
But in case the franchise needed a nudge, if not a jolt, Kobe Bryant provided one with a record-setting 61 points in a 126-117 victory Monday night against the New York Knicks.
On a day when the Lakers pingponged from hope to regret and back to hope again, Bryant set the record for points in a game at Madison Square Garden, surpassing the 60 scored by the Knicks' Bernard King in 1984.
Bryant made 19 of 31 shots, all 20 of his free throws and also had three assists for the Lakers, who needed a boost after the dour injury news of the day. He received a standing ovation from almost every fan at the 41-year-old Garden when he took a seat amid a sea of "M-V-P" chants with 1:48 to play.
"I think it's a combination of things -- [Bynum] going down, this kind of being a 'hump' game for us on this road trip, I felt like I needed to focus even more so than usual," Bryant said. "On a lighter note, I've got to go review this documentary I'm doing with Spike Lee after the game and I didn't feel like sitting next to him and hearing him talk trash about the Knicks. That was added incentive as well, seriously."
Almost an afterthought, Pau Gasol had 31 points, 14 rebounds and five assists for the Lakers, who improved to 3-0 on their six-game trip.
The victory ended a day of wild swings for the Lakers, who were hopeful that Bynum's injury wouldn't be too severe, and then staggered when knee specialist David Athchek reviewed the results in the early afternoon.
Bynum was hurt when Bryant fell into him after an off-balance drive Saturday against Memphis.
Using the timetable issued by the team, Bynum would miss at least 27 of the final 36 regular-season games and might not return until the first round of the playoffs.
He is to fly back to Los Angeles today, rest the knee for the next seven to 10 days and then begin rehabilitating it with range-of-motion exercises and light workouts on a stationary bike. Surgery is not required for this type of injury because the ligament will heal on its own over time, Lakers spokesman John Black said.
Bynum had averaged 26.2 points, 14 rebounds and 3.2 blocked shots in his previous five games before being hurt in the first quarter Saturday.
"He was starting to exert his influence on the games," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said, almost remorsefully.
If the time frame for Bynum's return sounds familiar, it's because it is.
He went down last season in mid-January because of a deep bone bruise and a briefly dislocated left knee that was supposed to sideline him for "at least eight weeks." He did not play again in a season that ended with a trip to the NBA Finals, in which the Lakers lost to Boston.
"This should definitely be different just because the injury isn't the same," said Bynum, who watched Monday's game from the end of the bench in the first half.
He hoped he would return before eight weeks, but Lakers officials said it would be next to impossible. Still, Bynum said he wanted to play at least 10 regular-season games before the playoffs started.
"That would be good because then you get about 25 practices in and get a chance to get your rhythm back," he said. "Hopefully I'll get back sooner than later. I'm keeping a positive attitude."
The Lakers (38-9) hold a relatively comfortable five-game lead over San Antonio in the Western Conference standings, but it won't be easy to keep pace with Boston (40-9) and Cleveland (37-9) for the league's top record, which means something if the Lakers return to the Finals.
Jackson, however, sounded optimistic when asked if the top record was still plausible.
"I don't see any reason why not," he said. "This team was very successful last year when Pau came on board about a year ago this week, and finished the season very well. I think we have enough talent to be able to do it if there aren't any more injuries."
There was obviously enough talent Monday. Bryant had 18 points in the first quarter and 16 in the second as the Lakers took a 65-54 halftime lead. Then came 12 points in the third and 15 in the fourth, when they led by as many as 20.
Even Lee, a legendary Knicks fan, crouched over in amazement after Bryant scored on a spinning, twisting 12-footer to give him 59 points with 3:24 to play. The 61 points were the fourth-most Bryant has scored in a game.
"This place is special because the fans will boo you the whole game but they appreciate the game," Bryant said. "Tonight it felt great to get that reaction from these fans because it's just them saying, 'We love what you do.' "
Earlier in the day, Bryant said he thought the Lakers had enough talent to win a championship even if Bynum's prognosis wasn't favorable.
"We do," he said. "There's been plenty of teams who lost in the Finals that go back and win the next year. I think having Andrew in the lineup makes us a very dominant team. [With] him out of the lineup, we're still a great team. You put him in the mix and it takes us to another level."
Bryant was the one at another level Monday.
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Back to the 60s
Kobe Bryant's 61-point game Monday was the fifth time he has scored at least 60:
*--* Pts. Date Opponent 81 Jan. 22, 2006 Toronto 65 March 16, 2007 Portland (OT) 62 Dec. 20, 2005 Dallas 61 Feb. 2, 2009 New York 60 March 22, 2007 Memphis *--*