Good thing NBA games are only 48 minutes long. Kobe Bryant would try to play 49.
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.
He didn’t rest Sunday until 39.8 seconds remained in the Lakers’ 109-95 loss to the Clippers.
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.’
“He tries to put himself out there because he feels like he is the best player on the floor, and I understand that feeling.”