Jazz players are sick of talking, and hearing, about it. Kobe Bryant still may be pained by it.
It's Bryant bad back, and it played an integral role as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Jazz in Wednesday night's Game 5 and took a 3-2 advantage in their best-of-seven NBA Western Conference semifinal playoff series.
What part that aching back plays in tonight's Game 6 at EnergySolutions Arena, where the Jazz's postseason life is on the line, remains to be seen.
It could still be hurting, prompting Bryant to do what he did Wednesday: trust his teammates and leave it to the likes of Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom to do in the Jazz down the stretch.
"I don't think Kobe was the one that killed," Jazz forward Matt Harpring said. "I think it was the rest of their team."
It could still be hurting, and those very same teammates may ask Bryant to step up anyway, as happened in overtime of the Jazz's Game 4 victory last Sunday.
It could be just fine, allowing Bryant to post his fifth 30-plus-point game of the series and to take more than the 10 shots from the field that he hoisted in Game 5.
Or maybe it's somewhere in-between.
Bryant, the Los Angeles Times reported on its Web site, sat out practice Thursday, as did fellow veterans Gasol, Odom and Derek Fisher.
But Lakers coach Phil Jackson told the Times that Bryant though the back had tightened up in Wednesday's fourth quarter "seems to be OK" and was "all right."
In any event, it will be the most-discussed back on TV tonight.
It will have great impact, one way or another, and whether or not Utah gets back to even in the series.
And, likelier than not, it will in no way, shape or form be as painful as the NBA's recently crowned MVP indicated it was after he twisted it on a turnaround jumper early in Game 4 at EnergySolutions.
"There cannot be another level after what I went through over there," Bryant said after being asked about exploring "the next region of pain."
"That was the worst, most, pain I've ever felt in a game," he added. "I can't imagine there being another region besides that one."
After two full days of rest and rehab Monday and Tuesday, the back definitely had improved.
"It was better than I actually thought it was going to be," Bryant said after Game 6. "I was able to spin, I was able to slide defensively, be active, be aggressive.
"The biggest difference between (Wednesday night's) game and (Sunday's) game was (Wednesday) I could penetrate," he added. "I could put the defense in jeopardy. Last game, I couldn't do it. My back wouldn't let me do it."
All that said, it was obvious Bryant was nowhere close to 100 percent Wednesday.
Yes, he hit two quick shots and proved he would have to be guarded closely, as is the norm for such a superstar. But he didn't even attempt any shots in the fourth quarter, mostly deferring instead to big men Gasol and Odom.
Clearly, Bryant wasn't his usual self.
Jackson admitted as much Wednesday night, suggesting his shooting guard wasn't getting typical leg lift.
"I don't think he had elevation on his shot," Jackson said. "His shot was flat."
What Bryant did have, however, was what Jackson called "a perspective of how we could win the game and how he could do his best through his team."
And that perhaps is what is most scary for the Jazz, who seemed put off by the whole issue fewer than 24 hours after Bryant first got hurt and who, by Thursday, really were over it all.
What the Jazz could not avoid addressing, however, was the reality of just how dangerous a wounded but willing Bryant could be."Kobe's good, so we focus on him a lot, but we can't focus on him too much and leave other guys open," Jazz guard Kyle Korver added Thursday. "They have a lot of other guys who can shoot. They have a lot of guys who can play. (Wednesday) night ... the other guys were more aggressive. When they're doing that it almost makes them harder to guard than if Kobe's taking a lot of shots."
Contributing: Jody Genessy
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