Originally posted on Fox Sports West  |  Last updated 3/3/12
LOS ANGELES - If Nick Fury was really looking to add another superhero to his S.H.I.E.L.D. organization as they gather once again to bring the world back from the brink of disaster, he could have actively recruit The Masked Mambaaka Kobe Bryant of the L.A.K.E.R.S.. Actually, if "The Avengers" were anything more than a celluloid and comic book fantasy, Bryant is probably the only athlete alive who could join the fantasy ranks of Tony Stark Iron Man; Thor; Captain America; Hawkeye; Black Widow and The Hulk, and help save the world. In fact, Stan Lee would have a hard time coming up with a character as tough and dynamic as the real-life Mamba. In two outings since suffering his second major injury of the season during the All Star game, Bryant has scored 69 points with 15 rebounds and 11 assists, and the Lakers have scored 100 or more points twice in a row for only the second time in 36 games. Friday night Bryant scored 38 points on 13-24 shooting as the Lakers beat Sacramento 115-107. L.A. Is 22-1416-2 at STAPLES Centerwhile the Kings fell to 12-24. Bryant is still wearing an uncomfortable mask to protect his broken nose, sustained when the East's Dwayne Wade hammered him in Sunday's showcase. He also came away with a concussion, nausea and a sore neck. But he's playing through the pain and discomfortagain--and coming up with some of his best performances in an already excellent season. "The Masked Murderer," said reserve forward Matt Barnes, who had 10 points in 16 minutes off the bench. "I think he's even better when he's hurt. He's got to (focus) in a little more, and he takes nothing lightly (anyway). There's no doubt in my mind that as long as he can walk and move, he's gonna playno matter what the problem" Which is what sets the 14-time All Star apart from any of his NBA colleagues. Players in all sports perform injured on a regular basis. A sore back; twinge in the knee; headachewhatever. Most guys suck it up and play. Bryant, however, takes "playing hurt" into another stratosphere. He spent most of the first two months adjusting to a torn ligament in his right wrist; It happened in an exhibition game with the Clippers, but Kobe played 35 minutes in the opener at home against Chicago. The Lakers lost to the Bulls 88-87, but he scored 28, grabbed 7 rebounds and dished off six assists. And in spite of the wrist and the latest injury, he's been the league's leading scorer all season, and has missed no significant minutes. It's not the first time in his career that Bryant has gotten seriously hurt, then made like a superhero and continued to play at a remarkably high level. Twice in less than a month during the championship season of 2010, Bryant went down with back spasms and an injured left ankle. In the game following the back problem, he torched the Clippers for 30 points, 2 rebounds and 3 assists. Against Memphis on that sore anklewhich bothered him on and off for the rest of the year--he collected 32 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. However, there's little bravado in Bryant's replies when he's asked about how hard it is to keep playing through injuries. "Yeah, it's a little tiring, with the energy it takes to battle through (them)," he said. But I'm alright. I'm gonna keep on trucking, keep on playing. That's the only thing I know how to do." Which could be some bad news for the Miami Heat, who arrive in Los Angeles for a nationally televised battle against the Lakers Sunday afternoon. The Lakers' offense seems to be coming to life for the first time under new coach Mike Brown, and they have a defense good enough to shut down any team in the league. And even though they're close friends, Bryant will have a point to prove to Wade. The Heat is coming to town after a one-point loss in Utah, and might be vulnerable to the "Masked Mamba"--the Lakers' unstoppable superhero. "I'm looking forward to it," Bryant said. "It's going to be a lot of fun and there's a lot of high-energy (that will go into) that game. It's a good opportunity for us to measure...to see how much we've improved since the (98-87 loss) the last time we went down to Miami."
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