Kobe Bryant describes back as “stiff,” insists he’s not tired

WASHINGTON — As Kobe Bryant labored up and down the court proving once again he can weather the pain, Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni cracked that how all these heavy minutes will ultimately doom him.

“I told him that they’ll put a statue of him at Staples (Center), but it might be it of me literally riding him to death,” D”Antoni said. “They might just take him off the floor and bronze him right there.”

Before even taking a breath, D’Antoni then outlined the reality.

“So be it,” he said. “We need a win.

The Lakers sure did.

Their 102-96 victory Friday over the Washington Wizards ended a four-game losing streak, and for at least one night, gave the team temporary relief from unresolved problems. But it required exacerbating a potential one down the road. Bryant played through back spasms by posting 30 points, showing strong effort on defense and tallying seven assists. But Bryant logged 44 minutes and shot only 9 of 29 from the field.

Even though Bryant described his back as “pretty stiff,” he hardly seemed uptight about the heavy mileage.

“I’m not tired,” Bryant said. “I’m sore. But when I play, I’m in really really good condition. I’m just not tired.”

Bryant has averaged 37.9 minutes per game in his 17th season, a slight decrease from the 38.5 minutes per game he logged last year. The workload has increased even more recently. Bryant has played at least 40 minutes for four consecutive games, including a back-to-back set against New York (44) and Washington (43).

He’s hardly pacing himself through that playing time.

Against Washington, Bryant pulled down seven rebounds, took the majority of ball handling responsibilities and jumped into the passing lanes. Bryant even took a charge despite the stiff back.

“He’s good,” D’Antoni said. “He said he wasn’t even close to being tired.”

Yet, the Lakers will have to manage this problem on a long-term basis too.

After all, Bryant’s body wore down at certain parts of the 2012 NBA playoffs after appearing almost invincible during the regular season. During the time, Bryant also said several versions of what he repeated after the beating the Wizards.

“I’m not tired,” Bryant said. “If you have the opportunity to sit me in the game, you can sit. But I’m not tired. I can run all day.”

As the Lakers move forward along, though, D’Antoni hopes that won’t remain necessary.

“We do have to watch his minutes as we go,” D’Antoni said. “As soon as we get some guys back, we can watch his minutes hopefully. I’m not going to promise anything.”

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