Clippers guard Randy Foye takes a swipe at the ball as Lakers guard Kobe Bryant… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)
Two things a Lakers fan never wants to see: a loss to the Clippers and Kobe Bryant heading to the locker room in the second quarter.
So it was an uncomfortable first half Friday for Lakers followers as the designated home team struggled against its down-the-hall neighbor and Bryant walked off the court for further examination of a right elbow injury.
Then came good news for the pro-Lakers crowd at Staples Center, followed by better news: Bryant sustained only an ulnar-nerve contusion (layman's terms: he was hit on the funny bone) and the Lakers cruised against the undermanned Clippers, 108-95.
Bryant scored 24 points, 18 in the third quarter, as the Lakers improved their post-All-Star record to 3-0.
He looked pretty injured after halftime, making only eight of 11 shots and outscoring the Clippers by a point. Poor guy.
"Kobe kind of faked them out with that dead-arm thing and then scored a lot of points," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said wryly.
Bryant banged his funny bone while trying to block Randy Foye's three-point attempt with 3:03 left in the second quarter. He went to the bench, was examined briefly by trainer Gary Vitti, and headed to the locker room after burying his face in a towel for a minute.
Unfortunately for the Clippers, he returned.
Despite his third-quarter accuracy, Bryant was careful to protect his right arm. He accepted teammates' congratulations with his left hand during timeouts and gave Pau Gasol only a one-armed hug after the Lakers' forward found Bryant for a layup.
"It's sore, very sore," Bryant said. "When I hit it, my whole arm just went numb. I had a hard time bending it."
His first shot in the third quarter was an off-target left-handed hook shot. But then he drilled a pair of three-pointers, both right-handed.
He was fine. He was back.
"I've been playing basketball since I was 2. I can shoot the ball different ways," he said. "I don't have to shoot it like I normally shoot it. If I bent that elbow a little too much, then that's when I feel it, so I just had to just shorten it up a little bit."
There were other players in Friday's game, though most were afterthoughts in the glare of Bryant's headline-grabbing effort.
Andrew Bynum had 16 points and 11 rebounds. Gasol had 22 points on eight-for-nine shooting.
The story, though, was obviously Bryant.
"He does that a lot," said Clippers rookie Blake Griffin, who had 22 points and 10 rebounds. "That's why he's one of the best."
The Clippers received a solid effort from Foye (24 points), though they were short-handed because Baron Davis hadn't taken his physical yet in Cleveland, meaning new Clippers additions Mo Williams and Jamario Moon weren't allowed to play.
It was unclear if they would play Saturday against Boston.
"They won't be able to take part in the shoot-around [Saturday]," Clippers Coach Vinny Del Negro said. "It'll be tough to just throw them out there."
Clippers guard Eric Gordon sat out his 16th game because of an injured right wrist, though he said he might return next week.
Despite the absentees, the Clippers led at the end of the first quarter, 31-30, as Foye scored 14 points.
Then as the final seconds wound down in the second quarter, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan drove untouched from midcourt, blew past Gasol and scored on a finger roll before the halftime buzzer to bring the Clippers within 52-50.
The third quarter, however, belonged to Bryant, allowing the fourth quarter to belong to Devin Ebanks. The rookie scored on two alley-oop passes from Steve Blake, delighting a crowd that had been so quietly nervous an hour earlier.
You could almost hear an entire fan base, if not the franchise itself, exhale.