Well before Kobe Bryant stepped on the court in his 20th and likely last NBA season, it appeared obvious the Lakers’ slate of 18 back-to-back games would represent a major factor in his workload.
But Lakers coach Byron Scott conceded uncertainty how will handle Bryant’s playing time when the Lakers (2-12) play the Portland Trail Blazers (6-10) on Saturday at Moda Center before hosting the Indiana Pacers (9-5) on Sunday at Staples Center.
“Tomorrow we’ll play him,” Scott said following Friday’s practice at the Lakers’ facility in El Segundo. “Then we’ll see how he looks for Sunday.”
Scott’s approach with Bryant changed through the Lakers’ first set of back-to-backs. Bryant wanted to play as many games as possible considering his admission this will likely mark his last NBA season. But Bryant missed games two weeks ago in Miami and Orlando because of back soreness. Last week, Scott played Bryant 36 minutes in a win over Detroit before deciding to sit him the next night in Phoenix.
Scott added he is “keeping everything open” on the upcoming slate. Bryant could play extended minutes in a possible close game in Portland and sit on Sunday against Indiana. Or Bryant could play under his 30.5 minutes per game average against the Trail Blazers in a possible blowout before logging more playing time the next day against the Pacers. Or Bryant could stay around his season-long average against both contests.
Scott maintained that he has not factored in ensuring that Bryant plays in Tuesday’s game in Philadelphia, a significant game in which he will play before his hometown crowd for likely the last time. But Scott called resting Bryant for prolonged days as a “double-edged sword.” The Lakers have not played since Bryant logged 25 minutes in Tuesday’s loss to Golden State. Bryant rested on Wednesday and Thursday before completing 75 percent of Friday’s practice, which included four-on-four drills and full-court scrimmaging.
“You give him too much rest, then his timing is that much more off,” Scott said. “I don’t want to work him too hard where now the timing is not much of an issue. But the rest is. It’s a hell of a balance to try to do and it’s hard. But the one thing about KB is willing to do whatever I ask him to do. You know he’s going to come ready to play. It’s just a matter of keeping him as fresh as possible and keeping his timing and the rust off as much as possible.”
Bryant has averaged 15.2 points while shooting a career-low 31.1 percent mark from the field on a team-leading 16.4 field-goal attempts per contests. Scott reiterated he does not plan to reduce Bryant’s role. But Scott conceded his uncertainty on how Bryant has handled his rest and workout regimen behind closed doors. Scott admitted that Bryant “probably” completes his own workout without telling the Lakers’ coaching staff.
“I don’t think he takes it to the extreme,” Scott said. “I think he might do a little something. But for the most part, half the time he really does rest. The other half, I think he probably gets some shots up.”