- Associated Press - Friday, March 15, 2013

ATLANTA (AP) - Kobe Bryant has had plenty of calls go his way during 17 seasons in the NBA, so it would be easy to dismiss his complaints in the ongoing debate about how he sprained his ankle.

That would be a gross injustice.

Dahntay Jones‘ play wasn’t just dangerous, it was downright dirty.

If anything, the Los Angeles Lakers all-star didn’t go far enough in griping about the play in Atlanta that left him with a severely sprained left ankle.

The NBA also came up short in its response, which amounted to a statement acknowledging a foul should have been called on the Hawks player for sliding under an airborne Bryant while defending a shot at the end of the game. Nothing more. Not even so much as a fine.

The league strangely failed to crack down on a very point it’s been emphasizing in recent years: When a shooter goes up, he must get a chance to come down. Bryant never got the chance, his left foot landing on Jones‘ right foot.

Bryant tried to come back Friday at Indiana without missing a game. He didn’t last long, missing four shots in the first quarter before he shut it down for the night. With his ailing ankle clearly not close to 100 percent, his jumpers kept coming up short. It was only the 15th scoreless game of Bryant’s career.

The Lakers still managed to pull out a win, beating the Pacers 99-93 while Bryant, holding a device with wires running to his ankle, cheered on his teammates from the bench.

“I just couldn’t put any pressure on it,” Bryant said. “It just continued to get worse. It didn’t get loose at all.”

Going forward, the NBA needs to do a better job defending Bryant, LeBron James and other high-profile players, because they’re the very reason we watch this game. But this really applies to anyone who goes up for a shot.

At the very least, Jones should’ve taken a hit in the wallet. A suspension of one or two games wouldn’t have been all that farfetched, either.

There’s no way a journeyman who’s on his sixth NBA team and stays in the league largely because of his defensive prowess should get away with a shady move that could potentially have such profound impact on the postseason. Come to think of it, no one should.

Clearly, after the way Bryant struggled against the Pacers, it’s too soon to tell when he’ll get back to being the same player he was before Wednesday’s injury.

You know, the guy who had literally taken an underachieving Lakers team on his back and hoisted them to the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

With the 34-year-old Bryant playing like he did a decade ago and Dwight Howard looking healthy for the first time all season, Los Angeles had a potent 1-2 punch and a chance to move up another spot or two in the standings.

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