Kobe Bryant's heavy minutes a necessity for Lakers, D'Antoni says

USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers and coach Mike D'Antoni believe there's no choice but to play Kobe Bryant as many minutes as they need.

If Kobe Bryant is indeed tired, he's doing a good job at taking away any opportunity for Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni to think twice about playing him every possible minute. As Los Angeles heads down the home stretch of five remaining regular season games, Bryant is saying he's OK to continue logging heavy minutes.

Bryant has played at least 47 minutes in three of the Lakers' last four games. And if there's a worry that Bryant won't be rested for the playoffs, well, D'Antoni isn't worried about that at this point, according to the Los Angeles Times.

"That's the risk that we're running with Kobe," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said. "His legs, we're playing a little bit with fire and we wouldn't like to. But we're putting ourselves in a position where we have to.

"I keep asking him, and he wants to do it. If he says he feels great and his legs aren't bothering him, then I've got to take his word for it. If he says, 'I'm tired, but I want to play through,' then that's different."

Los Angeles trails the Utah Jazz by a half-game in the Western Conference standings, and the Jazz hold the tiebreaker if the teams finish with equal records. Utah has four games remaining, including dates with the Thunder and Grizzlies sandwiching a home-and-home set with the Timberwolves. Meanwhile, Los Angeles must finish off its season against playoff-worthy teams in the Warriors, Spurs and Rockets.

Bryant has admitted to being tired at the end of games, but he claims that he's getting the needed rest in between them so they don't add up. He told Ramona Shelburne of ESPN LA that in between Friday's 86-84 victory against the Memphis Grizzlies and Sunday's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, he slept most of Saturday. The only energy exerted was a game of "Just Dance 4" with his kids.

Adding to the issue is injury. Bryant sprained his ankle a few weeks back, and bone spurs in his foot have caused discomfort. But the shooting guard is attempting to make up for the losses of Steve Nash and Metta World Peace, who are both injured themselves.

Though he's hitting 46 percent of his shots on the year, Bryant's field goals shooting has dipped to 37 percent in his last five games. It's perhaps a sign that his 75 games played at 38 minutes a night are catching up to him.

Bryant, however, appears focused on pushing through the fatigue.

Criticism is heading D'Antoni's way, especially if the team doesn't catch Utah. In Sunday's 109-95 loss to the Clippers, four Lakers played at least 39 minutes and only seven players saw more than one minute of actions. The Lakers coach maintains keeping Bryant on the court is the only way for the short-handed team to win, but it's no help that D'Antoni has historically been a proponent of using short benches of eight or even seven players.

At the same time, Bryant isn't one to think over-cautiously about himself. The Lakers will live and die by it.

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