Kobe Bryant unable to provide relief for Lakers from bench

A sneak-peek at tomorrow’s story …

Kobe Bryant sat at the end of the Lakers’ bench as the Memphis Grizzlies began to cement a102-96 victory Sunday night at Staples Center. He slumped forward, with his head resting in his palm as the game got away from his teammates.

The minutes ticked down and a sellout crowd of 18,997 grew restless. Some of the fans began to chant, “Kobe, Kobe, Kobe,” with less than three minutes to play in what became a head-scratching loss.

Bryant left with the Lakers trailing 93-79 after Memphis backup power forward Zach Randolph’s putback with 5 minutes, 45 seconds left in the game. He didn’t return to the court until the Lakers were down 98-89 with 1:51 remaining.

“I just decided to make a sub,” Lakers coach Mike Brown said when asked why Bryant sat for so long at such a critical point in the game. “I wanted to make a sub at that time and so I did (replace Bryant with Metta World Peace).”

Brown said it had nothing to do with any defensive lapses from Bryant.

“At the time, I felt like I needed a sub,” Brown said.

Brown went on to explain that he doesn’t like Bryant to play every second of a half, preferring to find a minute or two of rest for his oldest starter. Brown also acknowledged leaving Bryant on the bench at that point backfired.

“I tried it and it didn’t work,” he said.

Bryant declined to second-guess Brown’s decision to rest him.

“It’s his decision to make,” Bryant said. “I mean, he makes the decisions. He’s the coach. If you guys are looking for a story, I’m not going to give you one. I can’t sit here and criticize the decisions. I’m a leader on this ballclub.

“That’s something I can’t afford to do. I’ve got to have his back. I can’t start doing something crazy now. That would make no sense.”