As Kobe Bryant continued his rehab following Sunday’s morning shootaround on a series of shooting drills, it just brought a vivid reminder on how much the Lakers would like his presence in an actual game, particularly in the fourth quarter.
Bryant won’t play when the Lakers (9-8) host the Portland Trail Blazers tonight at Staples Center. But regardless of whether Bryant returns when the Lakers visit the Sacramento Kings Friday at Sleep Train Arena or beyond, the Lakers’ star will likely face a minute restriction in hopes of maximizing his health and ensuring he’ll play late in those clutch moments that has partly defined his storied 17-year NBA career.
“It will probably be self inflicted,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said following Sunday’s morning shootaround at the Lakers’ practice facility in El Segundo. “His conditioning will limit most of it.”
Bryant didn’t speak to reporters following Sunday’s morning shootaround. But Bryant sounded supportive of the idea when he spoke last week at a press conference prior to the Lakers’ loss to the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center.
“I’m comfortable with that for sure,” Bryant said at the time. “The goal is to win a championship and put ourselves in a position to win a championship. I feel we have some really good pieces and guys who are really competitive, athletic and energy that can carry a game. I think they’ve been showing that particularly in the last three games. If I come back and keep my minutes to a minimum, that would be perfect.”
Bryant and the Lakers have talked openly about that idea in the past, but it never materialized as the Lakers’ star averaged around 38 minutes in the last two seasons. Former Lakers coach Mike Brown relied on Bryant heavily in the 2011-12 season because of the coach’s discomfort level with his backup guards and the team’s learning curve with his offense. D’Antoni relied on Bryant heavily last season as the team fought to sneak into the playoffs. Prior to Bryant tearing his left Achilles tendon seven months ago, Bryant had averaged 45.6 minutes per game in the previous seven contests.
The circumstances this season appear different.
The Lakers will have off Monday, but Bryant plans to participate in the team’s three practices Tuesday through Thursday in hopes that will be enough to return. Bryant has indicated that he still needs work on his explosiveness and ability to move quickly from a stand-still position. He has remained pretty pragmatic throughout the process, however, and has monitored how his body responds after each increased workload both immediately after the session and the following day.
D’Antoni believes Lakers trainer Gary Vitti and Bryant will take the same approach toward how many minutes he should play or whether he’d sit out on the second night of back-to-back games. Before Steve Nash missed the past nine games because of persisting nerve pain in his back, the Lakers’ 39-year-old point guard also missed the second night of back-to-back contests.
“That would come from inside and him and whatever they tell me,” D’Antoni said. “If that’s a restriction, they’ll tell me.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina