The shot looked flat. The spring in his step looked sluggish. Then came Kobe Bryant's revelation after making three of 20 shots in the Lakers' 88-85 win March 31 against the New Orleans Hornets.
"Fatigue might have something to do with it," he said.
Bryant usually downplays this issue or ignores it completely. He tried to do that after Thursday's practice, insisting, "I was fine" while he logged 38 minutes a game during the season. Yet his initial comments suggest otherwise.
Despite Lakers Coach Mike Brown insisting he would play Bryant around 33-35 minutes per contest, he never did so out of concerns over an inconsistent bench. However, that game against New Orleans provided Bryant with something that would get him rest.
He was kicked in his left shin during that game. Although Bryant managed to play the next four games, the pain eventually became so much worse that the Lakers' training staff forced him to miss seven games so that it would fully heal. The Lakers then secured the Western Conference's No. 3 seeding in time to rest Bryant for the season finale last week against Sacramento. Since then, Bryant has helped lead the Lakers to a 2-0 first-round series lead over the Denver Nuggets by averaging 34.5 points a game on 49.1% shooting.
Does this reflect Bryant feeling more energized and healthy?
"Absolutely," he said. Bryant avoided explaining how. But Lakers Coach Mike Brown was more forthcoming.
"I probably would've kept playing him, hopefully not as many minutes as I did," Brown said. "But I kept saying that the whole year and didn't change. It was a good thing for him and a good thing for us."
It's a shame for the Lakers that Brown refused to think in such big-picture terms. The Lakers' 5-2 mark without Bryant in the lineup hardly suggests they didn't miss his presence. But it showed they're capable of mitigating his absence on a short-term basis. Bryant and his teammates also acknowledged his absence forced everyone else to feel more responsible to contribute.
"When you got the luxury of a guy like Kobe Bryant, you at times can use him too much," Brown conceded. "He may not admit this. But I was playing him more than I wanted to and I was asking him to do more than I would've liked throughout the course of the season ... So it was good for him to sit out a few games and get his body back to where he thinks it should be going in the playoffs."
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