Kobe Bryant out for 4th straight

LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant did not play against the Denver Nuggets on Friday. It was the fourth straight game Bryant has sat out because of inflammation in his left shin.

After Friday's shootaround, Lakers coach Mike Brown would not venture a guess as to whether Bryant would be available to play Sunday against the Dallas Mavericks. However, Brown was optimistic about the direction that Bryant's rehabilitation was going in.

"He's improving," Brown said. "He definitely is improving."

Bryant, who remains day to day, continues to go without the protective boot that he initially relied upon to cover his left leg. He is walking pain free and preparing to resume running activities, according to the team. If Bryant is able to run without pain his final hurdle to clear would be jumping without pain before returning to the lineup.

"We knew it was going to be a process," Brown told reporters before the game. "We knew it's an injury where we didn't want to rush him back. We wanted to make sure that we followed the right procedure that we felt that (Lakers trainer) Gary (Vitti) and the doctors and Kobe should do. So, that's what we're doing, but he is making progress."

Brown left Staples Center shortly before tipoff because of personal reasons, leaving assistant coach John Kuester to assume head coaching responsibilities in his absence.

However before Brown left, he was asked if there was a possibility of Bryant missing the remainder of the regular season because of the injury.

"I don't know," Brown said.

When pressed about the chances of Bryant sitting out the Lakers' final six regular season games, Brown said, "I don't think so."

The Lakers had the day off Thursday, but Bryant came into the team's practice facility to receive treatment on his shin. Bryant did not participate in shootaround Friday, using the time to undergo more treatment.

Bryant, the NBA's scoring leader, suffered the injury on March 31 when he was kicked in the shin during the first quarter of the Lakers' 88-85 win over the New Orleans Hornets.

The Lakers have gone 2-1 in the first three games of Bryant's absence, suffering their worst loss of the season in a 125-105 defeat to the Phoenix Suns before winning their next two, 93-91 over the Hornets and 98-84 over the San Antonio Spurs.

"There's really no (need for) adjustments," Brown said when asked about the Lakers' game plan without Bryant. "We just keep playing the way we're playing. Kobe did a great job when he was playing with us, kind of just fitting in and knowing when to pick and choose his spots. The reality of it is, Kobe has been around the game a long time so when he was playing, I didn't call a ton of plays for him. I start calling plays for him toward the end of the game more than anything else and he just finds spots or finds shots throughout the course of the game.

"So, for us obviously without Kobe it's a big blow from the standpoint that he's a big-time closer, but other than that our guys have an understanding of how we feel we want to play the game of basketball as a team, no matter who is in the lineup."

Added Brown before the game: "Another Kobe is not going to walk through the door. So, you go with what you have, you feel confident in the group that you have and you go play the game as best you can the right way and if you do that, this group is talented and good enough to get some wins."

The Lakers are 2-1 on the season against the Nuggets. In the one loss, Bryant struggled mightily, shooting just 6 for 28 from the floor as Denver won 99-90.

The Lakers have a one-game lead over the Los Angeles Clippers for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference playoff standings. Denver is in the No. 8 spot.
Five of the Lakers' remaining seven games in the regular season are against teams that would qualify for the postseason if the playoffs started Friday.

"We understand we have a tough schedule to finish off the season and every game should be valuable for us to get better and get ready for the playoffs," said Pau Gasol.