"I talked to him this afternoon and told him he didn't even have to come tonight but he wanted to come anyway," Lakers coach Byron Scott said before the game. "It's just my feeling that I wanted to give him another day of rest ... If the legs are good and his body is pretty good and he's not feeling any soreness or any stiffness or anything like that, then we'll go from there."
Bryant has now missed six of the team's past 11 games to rest and has rarely practiced this season, but Scott said there have been no discussions about shutting down Bryant for the season yet.
"I haven't thought about that yet," Scott said. "I keep thinking about game-to-game right now. So I haven't gotten to that point. Maybe after the All-Star break, maybe we will start talking about something like that if necessary."
Before the season, Bryant and Scott spoke about minutes restrictions and possibly sitting out games. Bryant suggested somewhere around 32 minutes, but Scott thought more in the range of Bryant's career average (36.6). He also envisioned Bryant playing all 82 games. It was a lofty goal for Bryant, who played in only six games last season while recovering from a torn Achilles tendon and a fracture in his left knee. In hindsight, Scott now admits it was too much.
"I thought his workload was too much," Scott said. "He had a number and my number was higher. His number was right when I look back at it. I cut those numbers down and ever since then his efficiency has been so much better as far as the way he's been playing and how he's able to play. At the beginning, us getting on the same page and me getting to know him and what he could take and what he could stand from a minutes standpoint on a night to night basis was something I had to get used to. We both got a real good feel now and we just have to go from this point on. He has proven he has a lot left in the tank."
Bryant was averaging more than 35 minutes per game before he took a three-game break at the end of December and was averaging more than 22 shots per game. In his five games back after his break, he has been averaging 31.4 minutes and taking 12.2 shots per game.
"It was overload," Scott said. "My number was higher and I played to my number. That had a lot to do with him being worn down. You might think three minutes is a lot or make a whole lot of difference, but in the long run it does. So I went back to the drawing board and the last few games he has played he has been totally different because he has a lot left in the tank, especially towards the end of the game which is the most important part."
Scott watched Bryant from afar last season as an in-studio analyst for the Lakers' television network, but didn't realize what Bryant went through last season just to play six games and how much playing 19 seasons in the NBA has taken a toll on Bryant, 36, until this season.
"I have a ton of confidence in him but I didn't take into serious consideration him almost missing a whole year and getting back and playing," Scott said. "I should have figured out that was going to take a little time. Watching him in workouts and watching in what great shape he was in, I think I got a little too confident, thinking he could handle those type of minutes. I was wrong. His minute number was totally better than what I thought ... I'm trying to make up for all the minutes I played him early and give him a little more rest."
As Scott maps out Bryant's practice and game minutes this season, he says he's not just thinking about this season, but making sure Bryant is healthy enough to play next season, the 20th of his career and final season of his current contract.
"He's a basketball player that's played a lot of years so I have to be a little concerned about that," Scott said. "That's the reason that I'm taking such precautionary measures and making sure he doesn't play so many games. I want him to be right, not only for this season but for next season as well."