New Orleans center Aaron Gray, center, battles for position with Lakers… (Jayne Kamin-Oncea / U.S.…)
It wasn't the way the Hornets' Aaron Gray went down late in Game 1 that his availability for the rest of this series seemed in question. It was just as much about how he got up off the court.
Gray, New Orleans' backup center, had to be helped off and couldn't put any weight on his sprained right ankle, making it look more like a week-to-week issue than day-to-day.
Incredibly, he was back in the lineup for Game 2 on Wednesday night against the Lakers and got in the game quickly when starter Emeka Okafor got into early foul trouble. Even before that, there was this question: Is Gray a quick healer or do the Hornets have a medical miracle staff?
The latter, said Gray. It turned out Gray's anatomy is faring better than the TV series.
"Definitely a medical miracle staff here," Gray said, smiling. "It's been a lot of hard work. To be honest, when I was walking back to the X-ray, I wanted to make sure we won.
"That was the biggest thing, still [1 minute 10 seconds] left. I've seen miraculous things, especially when Kobe Bryant is on the other end. Once that happened, my ankle even just felt better hearing we won. Obviously, it was unfortunate."
Gray's impact was immediate in Game 2: four rebounds and two points in the first quarter. He scored no more but finished with eight rebounds as New Orleans lost, 87-78.
His availability turned out to be a thing of necessity when he played all but 1:48 of the first quarter, needing to do so when Okafor picked up two quick fouls.
"Who would have thought at the beginning of the year, we'd be counting on Aaron Gray in a playoff game against the Lakers?" Hornets Coach Monty Williams said. "But these are the cards we've been dealt and we're glad to have him."
Williams was talking before Game 2.
"I thought he may be out for a few days, but the coaches and trainers kept coming back to me saying he'll be OK," Williams said. "When I first saw Aaron, before I could even ask him how he was doing, he put him thumb up and said he'll be ready to play."
Hornets General Manager Dell Demps was talking to a couple of reporters at practice Tuesday and told a funny story about the team, finishing with a self-deprecating punch line.
New Orleans had returned from a successful trip, early in the season, on a Sunday night and noticed a significant number of fans outside the airport.
Indeed, the spectators were waiting for a team. But they were there … waiting for the Saints, Demps said, smiling.
Gray remembered the incident too. Who knows? The fans still could end up assembling for the Hornets.
"Might be — the fans in New Orleans have been great all year," Gray said. "Through everything we've gone through, just with the ownership change, just the constant rumors we're going to be leaving. Obviously, it's not something we can control.
"They've been great through it all."