LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni knows the risk of playing Kobe Bryant as many minutes as he has during the past four games. He also knows the risks of not using the Lakers' best player as much as possible as the team frantically tries to make the playoffs.
"We're playing a little bit with fire," D'Antoni said of Bryant, who has played 46 minutes a game the past four games. "We wouldn't like to but we put ourselves in the position we have to.
"We're short-handed right now and we're playing it very tight. Normally this wouldn't happen but we put ourselves in a hole and Kobe is our best bet going forward to win games. He said he's going to retire after a year so we're going to get our money's worth for two years. I don't know what to tell you."
Bryant played all but 40 seconds of the Lakers' 109-95 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday.
"If he says he feels great and his legs aren't bothering him then I have to take his word for it," D'Antoni said. "If he says 'I'm tired but I want to play through it,' then that's different. But he says he feels great."
Bryant admitted he was tired after Friday's win against the Memphis Grizzlies. He even asked out of the game in the second half.
Sunday though, he said he felt good.
"I feel fine. I get plenty of rest, so I feel fine," Bryant said. "After the last game, I was pretty tired. But I was able to get plenty of rest from the last game until now."
Bryant said he slept most of Saturday. His only activity was playing "Just Dance 4" with his two daughters.
He's been playing such heavy minutes for several reasons. He's got a painful bone bruise in his right foot that tends to stiffen up when he comes out of the game.
Then there's the matter of the Lakers' desperate playoff push. They came into Sunday's game having won three in a row, but still only leading Utah by half a game for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Bryant had previously guaranteed the Lakers would make the playoffs.
"I don't see it as that big of a deal," he said. "We have some tough games ahead. But we go out there and do what we do."
"The bottom line, we need to win five straight," D'Antoni said. "We've got ourselves to where we need to win five in a row and we get in the playoffs and that's what we want to do."
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Kobe Bryant giving his all, and Mike D'Antoni isn't stopping him
With the Lakers pushing to make the playoffs, the guard is logging serious time on the court, despite his injuries. But will fatigue catch up with him?
He's 34 years old, ignoring bone spurs in his left foot and recently coming off a severe ankle sprain, but he keeps throwing himself toward the maximum limit per NBA game.
This all started March 30, when he sat out only 23 seconds against Sacramento. He followed it up with 56 seconds of rest against Dallas. Then a veritable vacation with 43 minutes of playing time against Memphis before pushing back up Sunday toward almost the full 48.
Why is he doing this?
"Playoffs, probably," Bryant said.
Even if the Lakers got there — a serious question after they were exposed again by a better Western Conference team — what would Bryant have left to give?
Despite his claims to the contrary, he looked fatigued Sunday, making only six of 19 shots. He had 25 points, 10 assists and four turnovers.
"That's the risk that we're running with Kobe," Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said. "His legs, we're playing a little bit with fire and we wouldn't like to. But we're putting ourselves in a position where we have to.
"Obviously, if that doesn't work, then I should have done something else. Right now, I don't know. I sit him down and we lose; that's not going to work either.
"Kobe's our best bet going forward to win games, and he says he's going to retire after a year, so we'll get our money's worth for two years."
Bryant hasn't officially said he's done after next season, his last year under contract with the Lakers. But he is demanding as many minutes as possible. D'Antoni isn't stopping him.
"I keep asking him, and he wants to do it," D'Antoni said. "If he says he feels great and his legs aren't bothering him, then I've got to take his word for it. If he says, 'I'm tired, but I want to play through,' then that's different."
The Lakers looked especially short-handed against a deep Clippers team. Steve Nash sat out because of hip and hamstring soreness, possibly returning Tuesday against New Orleans. Metta World Peace will return earlier than expected but remains sidelined after having cartilage removed from his knee.
D'Antoni, though, stubbornly stuck to a seven-man rotation.
"We're playing guys on fumes a little bit right now, but we're going to get some guys back here pretty soon, so we'll have a longer rotation in the playoffs," D'Antoni said. "I think we're going to be dangerous."
Bryant will presumably be dangerous if the Lakers make the playoffs. And if he isn't completely exhausted.
"We know how competitive he is and how much he wants to play," Pau Gasol said. "It's up to the coach to say, 'No, you're not going to play 47. You're going to play 38.' Or, 'Yes, I'm going to let you play whatever you want.'
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Edited by , April 07, 2013 - 08:37 PM.