The tank on his engine appears running on empty, but Kobe Bryant believes he still has enough fuel.
No doubt, Bryant needs to rest. He conceded as much following the Lakers’ 86-84 victory Friday over the Memphis Grizzlies when he revealed he won’t watch any of the NCAA Final Four this weekend. After all, every second he remains away from the court means precious time he can use to improve the bone spurs in his left foot, the sprained left ankle and overall energy level.
Once the lights pop on the basketball court, Bryant believes he can’t do anything but push the accelerator even if he’s running on fumes.
“It’s a little sore after games,” Bryant said. “But during the games, I haven’t had to think about it.”
Instead, Bryant’s thought nothing except for winning. His 24-point performance on 10 of 23 shooting and nine assists played a large part in that. He played a two-man game with Pau Gasol that resulted in him scoring 19 points on 8 of 14 shooting. Bryant opened the first quarter posting nine points on 4 of 5 shooting. And by staying strict to his diet where he’s eaten since this offseason nothing but protein and vegetables, Bryant has kept his motor running.
“It helps because it gives you an ability to recover quicker,” Bryant said. “That’s really the big key. You need all the energy you can possibly get, the hydration, eating the right stuff. It all pays off.”
As a result, the Lakers (40-36) still have a half-game lead over the Utah Jazz (40-37) for the eighth playoff spot with six games remaining.
“This is the big push for us. “We have a very tough stretch, but we’re excited about it. When you’re going into the playoffs, you want to go in playing the best teams,” Bryant said. “There’s no point in being excited to get the first round and get your [tail] kicked. What’s the point? You want to go into the playoffs playing well and playing against some tough teams and top competition.”
But not all went according to plan.
Bryant said he asked Lakers coach Mike D’ANtoni to take him out for a three-minute stretch in the fourth quarter so he could rest. Bryant went only 1 of 6 from the field in the fourth quarter. Bryant missed a 20-foot jumper as the Lakers led 85-84 with 17 seconds remaining. Btu the Lakers walked away with a win after Dwight Howard made one of two free throws and then stopped Memphis guard Mike Conley on the final play.
“I wasn’t tired after the last shot,” Bryant said. “I could muster up the energy that I wanted to. I just pulled it a little right.”
Regardless, Lakers forward Pau Gasol hopes Bryant make adjustments. After all, he’s played 137 minutes in the past three games. It also remains unclear when Steve Nash will return after missing the past two contests because of a strained right hamstring and right hip spasm. Lakers forward Metta World Peace also will stay sidelined for least five more weeks because of a surgically repaired left knee.
“I’d like to see him be a little less aggressive early on and be more aggressive later in the game,” Gasol said. “He needs his legs to be effective. And with the amount of minutes he’s playing lately, it’s normal that he’s tired at the end of games. He’s just playing a lot of minutes. I already said two games ago that I was concerned about it. But he’s the best at making plays down the stretch. that’s why he’s got the ball in his hands, and we count on those plays, especially in close games like this one.”
And with that, the Lakers fight on to see another day with their playoff aspirations still intact.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org