Lakers’ Kobe Bryant says he’s evolving his game because of circumstances

"DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 30: Kobe Bryant (24) of the Los Angeles Lakers directs traffic as Alonzo Gee (1) of the Denver Nuggets defends during the second half of the Lakers' 111-103 win. The Denver Nuggets hosted the Los Angeles Lakers at the Pepsi Center on Monday, December 30, 2014. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)"

“DENVER, CO – DECEMBER 30: Kobe Bryant (24) of the Los Angeles Lakers directs traffic as Alonzo Gee (1) of the Denver Nuggets defends during the second half of the Lakers’ 111-103 win. The Denver Nuggets hosted the Los Angeles Lakers at the Pepsi Center on Monday, December 30, 2014. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)”

DENVER — His workload dwindled and his free time opened up, giving Kobe Bryant several moments of self reflection on how he will counter punch against Father Time and persistent double teams.

When he sat three games last week, Bryant restored some of the energy that he expended through two months this season that produced 24.1 points albeit on a career-low 37.5 percent shooting. But that time away from the court also prompted Bryant to look at how he can play more efficiently by finding easier sweet spots and elevating his teammates around him.

So in what Bryant likened toward becoming an “old school Oscar Robertson,” the Lakers’ star returned to the court with a less-is-more approach. That meant taking fewer shots and making more passes. That meant offsetting his lost athleticism with a deliberate approach by backing down his opponents in the post instead of exploding to the basket. That meant Bryant offering his second triple double of the season, his 23 points on 6-of-11 shooting, 11 rebounds and 11 assists in 32 minutes fueling the Lakers’ 111-103 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday at Pepsi Center. Incidentally, the strategy offered Bryant the gas mileage equivalent to a Prius instead of a Hummer.

“I’m making some adjustments and focusing on being a point two. It takes less effort and less energy,” said Bryant as he rested his legs in a bucket of ice by his locker afterwards. “I’m a natural scorer. But that doesn’t mean I can’t evolve.”

Yet, Lakers coach Byron Scott and Bryant stressed that this identity switch reflects more of the circumstances around him than actually changing his scoring mentality.

“He has a great feel for the game and takes what the defense gives him,” Scott said. “Tonight was one of those nights where they tried to get it out of his hands. He did a great job of reading the defense and finding the open guys. I don’t think he’s out there trying to save anything or pacing himself. That’s not his style. He’s taking what defenses give him.”
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Lakers’ Ed Davis suffers broken nose in 111-103 win over Denver Nuggets

"DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 30: Nate Robinson (5) of the Denver Nuggets fouls Ed Davis (21) of the Los Angeles Lakers on a play that would lead to Robinson's second technical and eventual ejection during the second half of the Lakers' 111-103 win. The Denver Nuggets hosted the Los Angeles Lakers at the Pepsi Center on Monday, December 30, 2014. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)"

“DENVER, CO – DECEMBER 30: Nate Robinson (5) of the Denver Nuggets fouls Ed Davis (21) of the Los Angeles Lakers on a play that would lead to Robinson’s second technical and eventual ejection during the second half of the Lakers’ 111-103 win. The Denver Nuggets hosted the Los Angeles Lakers at the Pepsi Center on Monday, December 30, 2014. (Photo by AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post)”

DENVER — He looked understandably dazed and he sounded tired, Yet, there Lakers forward Ed Davis stood patiently by his locker willing to answer any questions to those who asked about his nose.

“I think it’s broken,” Davis said following the Lakers’ 111-103 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday at Pepsi Center. “They say it’s broken. I have to get some tests tomorrow. But it’s probably broken.”

Davis suffered the injury after Nuggets guard Nate Robinson delivered a hard foul on Davis with 1:36 that prompted his second technical foul and immediate ejection.

Said Davis: “I hope I don’t have to wear a mask.”


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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com

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Lakers’ Byron Scott having long-term outlook on managing Kobe Bryant

Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, right, looks to shoot as he is pressured by Sacramento Kings' Ben McLemore during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, right, looks to shoot as he is pressured by Sacramento Kings’ Ben McLemore during the first half of an NBA basketball game Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2014, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

DENVER — How to maximize Kobe Bryant’s talent without compromising his health has emerged as one of biggest challenges for Lakers coach Byron Scott.

Welcome to the club.

Mike Brown, Mike D’Antoni and Phil Jackson never successfully found the formula, either.

Jackson played Bryant an average of 33.9 minutes per game in the 2010-11 season and sat him out of practices to protect his surgically repaired right knee. The Lakers and Bryant both defended this approach since his health would largely determine if they could win a third consecutive NBA championship. But after the Lakers lost in four games to the Dallas Mavericks in the 2011 Western Conference semifinals, both the Lakers and Bryant conceded his absence from practice partly disrupted team chemistry.

Brown wanted to limit Bryant between 32-34 minutes per game during the 2011-12 campaign, but he averaged 38.5 minutes so he could compensate for the Lakers’ learning curve stemmed from a new offense and a lockout-shortened season. D’Antoni planned to reduce Bryant’s workload, too. But he played Bryant an average of 38.6 minutes that season during the 2012-13 season, including a seven-game stretch where he logged 45.6 minutes per contest as the Lakers fought to secure a playoff spot. Bryant then tore his left Achilles and stayed sidelined for eight months.

Yet, Scott’s circumstances are different. The Lakers (9-22) enter Tuesday’s game against the Denver Nuggets (13-18) at Pepsi Center hardly expected to make the playoffs. Bryant is also in his 19th NBA season, averaging 24.1 points albeit on a career-low 37.2 percent shooting. The Lakers have a roster full either castoffs or unproven talent mostly on one-year deals.

How does Scott view his circumstances different in managing Bryant’s work load?

“The biggest difference is to keep him as healthy as possible so he can finish out the way he wants to,” Scott said. “I don’t want him to get injured this year or next year. I want him to play at the level that he’s accustomed to playing. In order for him to do that, I have to cut minutes.”

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New Laker Tarik Black wants to bring work ethic, defensive hustle

It did not take long for Tarik Black to ingratiate himself with the Lakers.

He arrived at the team’s facility on Monday introducing himself to the Lakers’ coaching staff, general manager Mitch Kupchak, trainer Gary Vitti and public relations officials. Plenty of them spent that time both exchanging pleasantries and ironing out how to pronounce his first name (TARik). The Lakers and Black will become more familiar with each other after he was recently claimed off waivers after the Houston Rockets recently released the rookie center.

Among the many questions to iron out – how much will Lakers coach Byron Scott finds minutes for Tarik in the team’s bloated frontcourt?

“I will,” Scott said. “It’s great we bring in Black. I don’t know if our guys get comfortable. I don’t like you to be comfortable to be honest with you. I don’t want our bigs to be comfortable just thinking you’ll be playing just because you’re here. This young man will come in and he’s obviously very hungry.”

Black will travel with the Lakers (9-21) for Tuesday’s game against the Denver Nuggets (13-18) at Pepsi Center. But Scott does not believe Tarik will play until he practices with the team. The Lakers might have off on Wednesday, but will likely practice on Thursday before Friday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center.

The Lakers have plenty of frontcourt players, including starters Ed Davis and Jordan Hill and reserves Carlos Boozer and Robert Sacre. But the Lakers have allowed a league-worst 109.2 points per game. Enter Black, the undrafted rookie out of Kansas who impressed the Houston Rockets by playing 25 games and starting 12 for an injured Dwight Howard. Black averaged 4.2 points on 54.2 percent shooting and 5.1 rebounds before the Rockets waived him to make room for Josh Smith.

“We’re all trying to get playing time because we love the game. So we want to play. But what I’m here to do is just help the team,” Black said. “We’re all teammates, we all put on the same jersey, and we should be out here for the same purpose and that’s to win. So none of my teammates, I’m not going against any of them. I just want to come in here and work hard, put my head down, put in the work I have to put and help this team win as much as I can.”

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Byron Scott reaches more clarity on Kobe Bryant’s practice plan

"MINNEAPOLIS, MN - DECEMBER 14: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers hugs head coach Byron Scott after passing Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list with a free throw in the second quarter of the game on December 14, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)"

“MINNEAPOLIS, MN – DECEMBER 14: Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers hugs head coach Byron Scott after passing Michael Jordan on the all-time scoring list with a free throw in the second quarter of the game on December 14, 2014 at Target Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)”

So many questions remain on how Father Time and Mother Nature might respond in Kobe Bryant’s quest to win a few battles against those elements.

But Lakers coach Byron Scott has outlined a tentative plan in hopes both to preserve the 36-year-old Bryant and maximize his presence. Bryant sat out of Monday’s practice after posting 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting, seven assists and five turnovers in 32 minutes of the Lakers’ loss on Sunday to Phoenix, a game in which Scott reported Bryant saying he “felt fresh.” Scott said Bryant will sit out of practices when there is only one day between games. The Lakers (9-21) play on Tuesday in Denver (13-18), a game Bryant plans to play.

“It seemed to work for him well the other day,” Scott said. “We’ll continue to work him back.”

The Lakers then play on Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center. Because the Lakers have three days between games, Scott plans to give Bryant off on Wednesday and then allow Bryan to complete what he called “light work” on Thursday.

“Just shooting,” Scott said. “Just a good sweat. He can get that with all his shooting and movements.”

Scott hasn’t yet decided how he will handle Bryant on back-to-back games. Or how much Bryant’s playing time will increase during possible overtime games. But Scott plans to keep Bryant between 32 to 33 minutes after earlier playing him between 30 and 40 minutes. Bryant has averaged 24.1 points on a career-low 37.2 percent shooting in 35.4 minutes per game.

How challenging has this become Scott to resist urges to play Bryant longer?

“There’s so much temptation,” Scott said. “He’s one of the best in the world. I’m looking at that clock and at him and at that clock and want to put him back in. But I have to stick to the plan because I want what’s best for him.”

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Lakers’ Kobe Bryant believes new minute restrictions will improve health

Will Lakers maintain offensive balance as shown in Phoenix loss?

Lakers’ Kobe Bryant finds it ‘very challenging’ to balance workload, recovery

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com

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Lakers’ Kobe Bryant believes new minute restrictions will improve health

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, left, talks with boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. after the Lakers' NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Los Angeles. The Suns won 116-107. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, left, talks with boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. after the Lakers’ NBA basketball game against the Phoenix Suns, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Los Angeles. The Suns won 116-107. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

His knees stayed in a bucket of ice. It marked the final chapter of a day’s work for Kobe Bryant as he navigates through an amazing labyrinth that entails fighting back against both Father Time and the Lakers’ persistent struggles.

The Lakers still lost, 116-107, to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday at Staples Center. No one will mistake Bryant’s 10-point effort on 4-of-10 shooting, seven assists and five turnovers as a work of art in what marked his first game since missing the previous three contests to rest his aging 36-year-old body. But on a night where Bryant talked informally with a small group of reporters after post-game interviews about his love for languages, learning and traveling, the Lakers’ star also mused about another trending topic. Bryant sounded equally amused and horrified that a fan drove 35 minutes to Temecula on Christmas Day to defend him against another fan after arguing about the Lakers’ star on Twitter.

“Mamba Army don’t f— around,” Bryant said. “They take after their captain.”

But as Bryant has learned, his retorts to critics about his shot selection and demanding leadership style is not quite as easy as simply counting the number of championship rings on his fingers as recent did to a fan who heckled him a few days ago in Dallas.

“”Sometimes you have to remind people how to count,” Bryant said.

Instead, Bryant tried to address his recent inefficiency and fatigue by both playing conservative with his game and playing time. He only took one field-goal attempt in both the first and fourth quarter, while running a balanced offense that included Nick Young (21 points), Jeremy Lin (19 points), Wesley Johnson (14 points), Ed Davis (11 points) and Ronnie Price (10 points) in double figures. Bryant also played 32 minutes, a slight dropoff from the 35.4 he averaged all season.

“My legs felt a lot better. It’s working myself in the flow of things. But I felt fine. “Just got to be smart about it and keep the minutes down,” Bryant said. “I’m not as sore and three or four minutes makes a big difference.”

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Will Lakers maintain offensive balance as shown in Phoenix loss?

Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe, center, goes to the basket as Los Angeles Lakers center Jordan Hill, left, and forward Ed Davis defend during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Los Angeles. The Suns won 116-107. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Phoenix Suns guard Eric Bledsoe, center, goes to the basket as Los Angeles Lakers center Jordan Hill, left, and forward Ed Davis defend during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 28, 2014, in Los Angeles. The Suns won 116-107. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Kobe Bryant could not change the outcome. The Lakers’ defense could not either. A few missed shots late in the game didn’t help either.

Add it all up, and the Lakers’ 116-107 loss on Sunday to the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center sounds as repetitive as their other losses. The result also furthered the Lakers into the Western Conference abyss with a three-game losing streak and a 9-22 record.

But the Lakers offered something against the Phoenix Suns (18-14) that could both play into the “Bryant conservation project” and make the team more likely to collect more wins. The Lakers boasted plenty of offensive balance that gave the team a fighting chance.

Bryant ditched his high-volume shooting mentality as he both navigated Phoenix’s relentless double teams and in his own rust after missing the past three games to rest his 36-year-old body. So though he posted only 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting in 32 minutes, Bryant doled out seven assists and spent a large time running the offense as a point guard. Meanwhile, Nick Young (21 points on 7-of-15 shooting), Jeremy Lin (19 points on 8-of-11 shooting), Wesley Johnson (14 points on 5-of-9 shooting), Ed Davis (11 points on 5-of-6 shooting) and Ronnie Price (10 points on 4-of-7 shooting) all cracked double digits.

“I can force it. But the defenses, come hell or high water, I’m not going to beat,” Bryant said. “It’s as simple as that. I go through three guys and everyone is complaining. I try to make the simple play. Some nights you make shots and some nights we don’t.”

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Lakers waive Xavier Henry, claim Tarik Black

The Lakers waived Xavier Henry on Sunday (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

The Lakers waived Xavier Henry on Sunday (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

The Lakers waived reserve forward Xavier Henry to accommodate room for rookie center Tarik Black after being claimed off waivers, according to league sources familiar with the situation.

Henry had only averaged 2.2 points in 9.6 minutes through nine games before suffering a season-ending injury to his left Achilles tendon. That marked a steep dropoff from the career-high 10 points he posted last season despite missing 39 games because of injuries to his left wrist and right knee, both of which had offseason surgery. Henry also underwent the so-called Regenokine treatment on his knee in Dusseldorf, Germany, but Lakers coach Byron Scott noticed his explosiveness had diminished.

Meanwhile, Black averaged 4.2 points on 54.2 percent shooting and 5.1 rebounds through 25 games with the Houston Rockets as a backup center behind Dwight Howard. The Rockets recently waived Black to make room for Josh Smith, whom the Detroit Pistons recently released.
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Lakers’ Ryan Kelly could return Friday vs. Memphis

Los Angeles Lakers Ryan Kelly (4) defends against Utah Jazz's Derrick Favors (15) in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game Monday, April 14, 2014, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Los Angeles Lakers Ryan Kelly (4) defends against Utah Jazz’s Derrick Favors (15) in the first quarter during an NBA basketball game Monday, April 14, 2014, in Salt Lake City, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

After sitting out the past six weeks because of a torn right hamstring, Lakers forward Ryan Kelly could return as early as Friday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center.

After participating in 3-on-3 drills on Saturday and the team’s morning shootaround on Sunday, Kelly plans to participate in the Lakers’ scheduled practices for Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. Lakers coach Byron Scott said Kelly will participate in five-on-five drills on Wednesday and Thursday before determining his return date.

Kelly has appeared in only three games, averaging 3.7 points in 8.2 minutes. The Lakers signed Kelly to a two-year deal worth around $3.4 million this offseason after he showed promise his rookie season as an outside shooter and floor spacer. He averaged 7.8 points on 42.3 percent shooting in 21.6 minutes in 62 games last season.

“With Ryan, I don’t think there’s many guys on the team he can’t play with,” Scott said. “He’s very smart when he’s out there and he understands the game. It’s about trying to put a combination of guys out there with him where they can be successful.”

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Lakers’ Kobe Bryant to start against Phoenix

Lakers’ Nick Young adjusting to playing without Kobe Bryant

Lakers’ Kobe Bryant responds to Dallas heckler by counting his championship rings

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com

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Lakers’ Kobe Bryant to start against Phoenix

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant looks on from the bench in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, December 26, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. Bryant was sitting out his third straight game to rest his sore body but could be back in the lineup when the Lakers return home for their next outing. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant looks on from the bench in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks, Friday, December 26, 2014 in Dallas, Texas. Bryant was sitting out his third straight game to rest his sore body but could be back in the lineup when the Lakers return home for their next outing. (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

After missing the past three games to rest his 36-year-old body, Kobe Bryant will suit up when the Lakers (9-21) host the Phoenix Suns (17-14) at Staples Center.

“He says he feels a whole lot better,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said of Bryant after missing games against Golden State and the team’s recent two-game trip in Chicago and Dallas. The Lakers went 1-2 during Bryant’s absence. Bryant’s play against Phoenix will mark his first game since playing in last Sunday’s loss against Sacramento where he posted 25 points on 8-30 shooting and nine turnovers

Scott plans to play Bryant between 32-33 minutes, though he would like his playing time under 30 if the team either faces a wide-margin of victory or defeat. Although Bryant will start at his customary shooting guard spot, Scott also said that Bryant’s responsibilities moving forward could entail splitting time at point guard, shooting guard and small forward depending on game flow and matchups.

Scott listed Wayne Ellington and Nick Young as possibilities to play at shooting guard when Bryant mans that small forward position. Scott also offered some self-deprecation when a reporter suggested he should suit up at shooting guard considering he shot 48.2 percent from the field in his 14-year NBA career

“Only problem is he has a suit on,” Scott said, laughing. “He would love to go out there and play with Kobe. Then there’s 4 on 5 going down on the other end. That’s not good. Defensively right now you think we’d be better with four of us down there instead of five?”
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