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Certainly, they had the look of an extremely dangerous team for whoever they drew in the opening round of the playoffs.

Now, who knows? Sprained ankles are a tricky thing. Maybe Bryant sits for a while, hoping rest will help. Maybe he accepts being Kobe Light, someone who knows he can’t play at his usual level. Maybe he pushes himself too hard and makes things even worse.

Whatever the case, the Lakers could miss the playoffs _ and the NBA would have two of its biggest stars sitting at home.

All because of the way Jones defended Bryant’s fadeaway jumper that could’ve tied the game with 3 seconds remaining. The ball slid off the side of the rim and Bryant’s ankle twisted awkwardly when he landed on Jones‘ foot.

Kobe crumpled to the court, the Hawks got the rebound and Kyle Korver made two free throws to clinch a 96-92 victory that could have a huge impact on both teams’ seasons.

Jones defended himself Friday after a morning shootaround at Philips Arena, saying he didn’t mean to hurt Bryant.

“I was just trying to make a basketball play, trying to contest the jump shot,” Jones said. “I was trying to make the best basketball play I could to help our team win the game. Unfortunately, he rolled his ankle. But that was never my intent.”

The 32-year-old Jones has been around long enough to know better. His version is even tougher to swallow when you consider there’s history between these two: Jones, you might recall, blatantly stuck out his leg to trip Bryant during Game 4 of the 2009 Western Conference finals.

“I’m not saying it should have happened,” Jones said after the latest run-in. “But these things happen in basketball. Unfortunately, there’s no exact science to contesting jump shots, exact space and specificities. I just tried to get as close to him as I could to try to contest the jump shot. That is all.”

The video tells a different story.

With a chance to send the game to overtime, Bryant drove toward the baseline against Jones, stopped suddenly and launched a jumper while drifting away from the basket. Jones reacted a split-second after Bryant began to go up, but quickly reversed himself and began moving toward the shooter.

As Jones explained, he was looking to get as close as he could to disrupt the shot, without picking up a foul.

He went too far, way too far. By the time Bryant came down, Jones was right underneath him _ and, particularly troubling, he appeared to subtly stick out his right leg, which it how Bryant got injured.

While some Hawks privately complained that Bryant was at least partially to blame for kicking out his right leg at the top of his arc (no argument there; he did), that was a mere sidebar to the main issue.

Even one of Jones‘ teammates acknowledged as much.

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