Three days after Kobe Bryant broke his nose and got a concussion in the All-Star game, he strapped on a mask and went back to work.
Bryant received clearance to play for the Lakers on Wednesday night, not missing a game after a nasty injury resulting from a hard foul from Dwyane Wade.
Bryant was declared symptom-free by his neurologist about an hour before the Lakers hosted the Minnesota Timberwolves in their first game back from the All-Star break. In his only concession to two serious injuries, Bryant wore a clear protective mask over his nose.
Dr. Vern Williams said Bryant improved markedly after an exam Tuesday, meeting all the clinical guidelines for returning to action.
"We'll watch him very carefully, and we'll see how he does," Williams said.
Bryant started out well, hitting a 12-footer and a 21-footer on his first two shots against Minnesota.
Bryant had headaches and nausea shortly after getting hurt Sunday in his 14th All-Star game, in which Bryant became the leading scorer in All-Star history. His concussion was diagnosed Tuesday, and Bryant complained of neck soreness Williams likened to whiplash.
None of it could sideline Bryant, who leads the NBA in scoring with 28.4 points per game. He is the fifth-leading scorer in NBA history with 28,834 points.
"Kobe is Kobe," Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "I don't think he ever wants to sit out. If he had two broken legs, (he would say), 'Tape this one, and staple this one, and let's go.'"
Bryant was tested on a stationary bike, a treadmill and the court earlier Wednesday, participating in a 2-on-2 game at the Lakers' training complex under supervision. Brown said Bryant looked normal, and Williams administered a final exam at Staples Center before the game.
Bryant tried out a protective mask fashioned by the Lakers' training staff before the game. He decided to play in the getup, which didn't look exactly like the gear long worn by NBA veteran Richard Hamilton.
The Lakers opened a three-game homestand against Minnesota. Wade and the Miami Heat will visit Staples Center on Sunday.