Only 20 games remain in Kobe Bryant's career, and no, he probably will not play all of them.
The Los Angeles Lakers officially list Bryant as "Questionable" for Friday's game against the Atlanta Hawks, and judging by his words only two nights earlier, he may only be around to make a brief cameo appearance like he did in Denver on Wednesday.
In Colorado, Bryant managed 11 minutes before getting pulled for his sore right shoulder, which is the same one that went under the knife to end his penultimate season prematurely. After the contest, Bryant referred to his shoulder as "hurting" and added its "really, really achy."
On the topic of his sore right shoulder, Bryant added, "It's got a little bit of clicking in it and things like that."
The 37-year-old had missed the previous two games due to the shoulder injury, and by the look on his face and the sound of his voice, the veteran provided reasons to wonder how physically available he would be in his final 20 games. According to the player, he should not have been on the court on Wednesday.
"It was my last time here," Bryant explained why he suited up and took the court for a brief 11-minute outing in Denver. "Had it not been the case, I wouldn't have played."
Well, the final game against Atlanta at Staples Center is not a particularly momentous occasion. Bryant has another 14 games on the home game calendar after Friday's contest, so his status is severely questionable. Even if he takes part, one would imagine that Friday night would not feature heavy minutes for the 20-year professional.
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"As much as I can get out there and play, I'll get out there and play," Bryant explained his mentality for the final 20 games. "I'm going to have to start ramping it up a little bit and get out there and playing. It's almost a wrap. At the same time, I don't want to do something towards the end and have the shoulder pop out again and then I'm on the surgery table again."
Bryant added, "I just got to be smart."
If Bryant's shoulder is as hobbled as the superstar suggests, he expects to force his way onto the court for selected can't-miss games that carry greater meaning. Unless he decides to play all 20 games and put his body in serious jeopardy, here are a list of 12 of the final 20 games that offer special incentive for the retiring superstar (mark your calendars):
1. Sunday, Mar. 6: Golden State Warriors – Bryant facing the best team and player one last time would feel like one final passing of the torch.
2. Thursday, Mar. 10: Cleveland Cavaliers – Bryant faces LeBron James for the last time
3. Sunday, Mar. 13: New York Knicks – Bryant goes head-to-head against friend and longtime foe Carmelo Anthony for the last time
4. Wednesday, Mar. 23: at Phoenix Suns – Bryant's last trip to any arena is special, but facing Phoenix for the last time in Phoenix should be an all-time special "Kobe Bryant farewell tour" game.
5. Monday, Mar. 28: at Utah Jazz – Bryant's final game in Utah, where he air balled his way out of the playoffs during his rookie season and one of the most hostile arenas he's ever played in.
6. Wednesday, Mar. 30: Miami Heat – Bryant's final game against Dwyane Wade
7. Sunday, April 3: Boston Celtics – Bryant wouldn't miss his final game against Boston
8. LA Clippers – The Lakers play the Clippers away on Tuesday, April 5 in a nationally televised game and at home the next night in a locally televised game. Bryant will likely only take part in one side of the back-to-back.
9. Friday, April 8: at New Orleans – Bryant's final game in New Orleans
10. Sunday, April 10: at Houston – Bryant's final game against James Harden and farewell to yet another arena, along with Bryant's final chance to complete an NBA back-to-back.
11. Monday, April 11: at Oklahoma City – Bryant's last road game, and his final chance to match up against Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
12. Wednesday, April 13: Utah Jazz – Bryant's final game in the NBA, which will be nationally televised and should feature incredible fanfare, appreciation and emotion.
Bryant may play more games than the ones listed above, or he may play significantly fewer than the aforementioned list. However, these are the games that the retiring superstar likely marked on his calendar.