Masked Bryant lifts Lakers over ‘Wolves

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LOS ANGELES, California, March 1 – Wearing a mask to protect a broken nose, 14-time all-star Kobe Bryant finished with 31 points and eight assists as the Los Angeles Lakers routed Minnesota 104-85 on Wednesday.

Bryant, the NBA’s leading scorer, donned the clear plastic mask after suffering a broken nose and concussion in the 61st NBA all-star Game on Sunday.

“What I have learned about concussions over the last few days is they heal on their own time,” Bryant said. “There is no timetable for it. I just have to stay positive, tell myself ‘when I wake up tomorrow I am not going to have headaches.'”

Bryant shot 11-of-23 from the field in 33 minutes of playing time Wednesday and said the mask took some getting used to but he never considered going without it.

“My nose was too tender. When my nose stops being so sensitive I will take it off,” he said. “It got hot. I felt like I had a sauna on my face. Like I was drinking my own sweat.”

Bryant, who has five NBA championship rings, was cleared to play against the Timberwolves just prior to tip off Wednesday after undergoing a battery of tests conducted by a neurologist earlier in the day.

Bryant said he is not experiencing migraines and most of the pain is in his neck area.

“I understand the severity of the situation. You have to go through those steps,” Bryant said of the mandatory tests for concussion symptoms.

“I am fine, no headaches. Everything is in the neck from the hit.

“I have a lot of pressure at bottom of my neck. Constant throbbing. So once I get those muscles to relax I will be good.”

Bryant was fouled by Dwyane Wade in the Sunday’s all-star game. His nose was bloodied after Wade reached inside and slapped him in the face and shoulder in the third quarter.

But he said he has no hard feelings against Wade, who he calls a close friend.

“I have known Wade for years,” Bryant said. “He didn’t mean to do it. It is just something that happened. It is what it is. We have been close friends a long time.”

Bryant passed Michael Jordan as the all-time leading scorer in all-star games after netting 27 points in the West’s 152-149 victory over Wade’s Team East. And he stayed in the game right up to the final buzzer even though he was not feeling well.

“Finishing the all-star game with a concussion was pretty gnarly,” Bryant said. “I was seeing a little double and I didn’t know if it was a concussion or not because I have never had one before. I just knew things were off a bit.”

Pau Gasol finished with 15 points and Andrew Bynum had 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Lakers who opened a three-game homestand Wednesday. The Lakers have won six in a row at home and face Wade’s Heat on Sunday at Staples Center.

“It was not clear whether he was going to play but in his mind he was always going to go,” Gasol said. “It is great he has that kind of spirit.”

Michael Beasley and Martell Webster each finished with 14 points to lead Minnesota who have lost 17 straight contests to the Lakers.

Minnesota point guard Luke Ridnour rounded out the scoring in the first half by making a layup off a turnover by Bryant to pull the ‘Wolves within six points at the half, 50-44.

Bryant sank a pair of free throws to cap off a 17-5 Lakers run at the end of the third quarter to make it 83-59.

“A terrific night for Kobe. Kobe is a special human being,” said Lakers coach Mike Brown. “I don’t know what he is made of. He is different, he reacts different. He played a very good basketball game.”

The Timberwolves were missing all-star forward Kevin Love who suffered injured ribs in Tuesday’s 109-97 win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Minnesota finish off a four-game road trip with a game in Phoenix Thursday and in Portland on Saturday. They are in the middle of playing 11 of 15 contests on the road.

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