Continued from page 1

Even the Pacers expected to see Bryant in his only trip to Bankers Life Fieldhouse this season.

“We’ll be ready,” Indiana coach Frank Vogel said. “If he goes, there’s not anybody able to overcome injuries as well as he has, so we’ll be ready for Kobe at full strength.”

Initially, the Lakers feared the worst for Bryant and said he would be out indefinitely after he stayed on the floor and writhed in pain.

He ended up not missing any games.

He later complained that a foul should have been called, and NBA officials agreed with that assessment. They issued a statement Thursday that said the referees missed the call, something D'Antoni said he agreed with after watching the replays.

But D'Antoni said he did not believe Jones was intentionally trying to hurt Bryant.

Getting Bryant back sooner than expected wasn’t the only good news on the Lakers’ injury front Friday.

D'Antoni said Pau Gasol could return as soon as Monday at Phoenix, and Gasol could be in the starting lineup against the Suns, too.

The forward from Spain has been recovering from a torn plantar fascia in his right foot since early February. Gasol spent the last part of the shootaround working one-one-one against Howard.

But the focus right up until game time was on the swollen ankle that D'Antoni hadn’t even looked at yet.

“I think if you look at his tweets, you’ll see it,” he said, drawing laughter.

Bryant has routinely played with sprained fingers, still hitting his array of shots. Teammates usually play down the notion that any injury could sideline Bryant for significant time, and he didn’t stay down long this time, either.

_____

AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Los Angeles contributed to this report.