Maybe it was the 44 minutes Kobe Bryant played in the Lakers’ fifth game of the season, a home loss to Phoenix.
Or the 44 minutes he logged a few weeks later against Denver.
Bryant’s body isn’t functioning enough to be an everyday NBA player because of the cumulative effect of 55,322 minutes in nearly 1,500 regular-season and playoff games.
He sat out another game Sunday for rest reasons, his fifth over the last 11 games, and the Lakers lost to the Portland Trail Blazers, 106-94, at Staples Center.
Coach Byron Scott pointed the finger squarely at himself as Bryant’s absences piled up, claiming his judgment was clouded by Bryant’s inspired play in October and November.
Bryant looked fresh after coming back from a torn Achilles’ tendon and fractured knee that limited him to six games last season. No surprise, he was determined to carry the Lakers game after game, even to the detriment of the team at times (39 points on 37 shots in the Phoenix game).
Bryant averaged 37.1 minutes through November and 34.2 in December. His career average before this season was 36.9 minutes.
“It was an overload,” Scott said. “I should have figured out that it was going to take a little time, but watching his workouts and what great shape he was in, I think I got a little too confident. I was wrong.”
Bryant, 36, is under contract for one more season at $25 million. He deals with continual ice baths, detailed stretching routines, fountains of hydrating fluids and the eternally tedious concept of elevating his legs for long periods daily.
Bryant did not talk to reporters Sunday, but Scott kept blaming himself.
“I wish I had kept his minutes at 30 or 32,” he said. “Back-to-back games, I wish I had thought to sit him down then.
“I’m just trying to make up for the minutes I played him earlier, get him more rest.”
Scott said he wasn’t worried about Bryant’s overall status from now until April 15, the last day of the regular season.
“I’m not concerned about his health at all,” Scott said, later adding. “I want him to be right, not only for this season, but next season as well.”
At the same time, it was too early to determine whether Bryant would be shut down for the season after the All-Star break, Scott said.
For now, Bryant will probably be rested one game in every back-to-back situation. The Lakers have eight of them left, including Thursday against Cleveland and Friday at Utah. He would likely skip Friday’s game and not travel with the team.
Bryant’s overall production hasn’t been lacking — 23 points, 5.6 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game — but his shooting percentage is down to an unsightly 37.5%, almost 8% below his career accuracy before this season.
The Lakers were plenty accurate for three quarters against Portland and led by one point early in the fourth quarter.
But Damian Lillard had 34 points, 17 in the fourth quarter, including a split-the-defense dunk with 1 minute 4 seconds to play. He added a step-back three-point basket and a 26-foot three-pointer.
“That was him being him tonight, playing like he’s playing at the Drew League,” Nick Young said.
Young probably wished he could capture some of the hoist-and-holler magic he had earlier this season.
He had only nine points Sunday on three-for-11 shooting. Scott wanted more from him than animated agony.
“Every shot that he misses, it’s like the end of the world to him,” Scott said, hoping Young would concentrate more on rebounding and defense if his slump continued. Young is shooting 28.3% in six games this month.
Not everything attached to the Lakers was negative.
Ronnie Price had a career-high 12 assists and Wesley Johnson had 17 points after a three-game absence because of a strained hip flexor.
But above all, there was Bryant. What will happen in the near future? Difficult to predict.
Al least Scott finally stopped picking on himself.
“You look back at it, I say ‘Man, I wish I would have,’ but I didn’t,” he said of decreasing Bryant’s minutes. “We have to move on from here.”