Continued from page 1

“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.”

The possibility of getting Bryant 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 center Dwight Howard.

But the focus Friday was on one swollen ankle that D'Antoni hasn’t even taken a peek at yet.

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

The Lakers need Bryant to continue their surge toward the playoffs.

He is the NBA’s third-leading scorer at 27.5 points and has helped stabilize his team during a tumultuous season that has included the early firing of coach Mike Brown, a prolonged skid, All-Star center Dwight Howard’s struggles to fit in with his new team, and the death of owner Jerry Buss.

The Lakers (34-32) have won 17 of their past 24 games to move into the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Utah (33-32) trails the Lakers by a half game entering Friday’s games.

If Bryant misses any substantial time, Los Angeles knows it could again be a struggle to make the playoffs. But nobody is anticipating that.

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.

“That’s not the Kobe I know,” Steve Nash said. “We’ll see how he feels. … This is his team and everyone respects him.”

_____

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