HANG TIME WEST – The night Steve Nash returned from a fractured left leg, Kobe Bryant was asked to describe the 24 games with Nash sidelined by a fractured left leg.
“Tiring,” Bryant said.
He even repeated the answer an instant later, before another question had been asked, for emphasis.
An understandable read considering the 40.6 minutes per game he logged in Nash’s absence. Except that then Nash returned and nothing changed. If anything, actually, the fractional change that did occur was for the worst for whatever hopes Bryant had of being able to reduce his workload.
Bryant is playing slightly more in the four games since the Lakers got their preferred starting backcourt together. It is fine for now since he is the last guy to worry about with conditioning, and it is understandable in the moment as Bryant continues to deliver at a superstar level, but the playoffs remain the priority and it is fair to wonder how much he will have left in late April at this rate.
Bryant, at 34 years old, was tied with Joe Johnson for fourth in the league heading into Monday’s games, at 38.7 minutes, behind only Luol Deng (40.4), Kevin Durant (39.6) and Joakim Noah (39.5). Just as it was a concern with Mike Brown as coach, to where Brown said in the 2012 playoffs he worked Bryant too hard in the regular season, so too will it apparently be a storyline to watch under Brown successor Mike D’Antoni.
Bryant in the 24 games without Nash: 40.6 minutes.
Bryant in the four games since Nash returned: 40.8.
Bryant season-long average when Nash returned: 38.4.
Bryant season-long average today: 38.7.
And that was with the break of 31 minutes in the blowout win over the Trail Blazers on Friday. Otherwise, he went 44 minutes three games in a row.
Nash in the first two games: 25 minutes a game, though it’s a very skewed statistic since he went 34 in the opener and then only 16 before hurting the leg Oct. 31 at Portland.
Nash in the four games since the Dec. 22 return: 34.
Nash season-long average: 31.
D’Antoni is obviously trying to quickly scrape together enough wins to change the atmosphere, a notion that would have been unimaginable at the outset of the season. More specifically, he is trying to accelerate the transition to his system, and so Nash, who knows it better than any Laker thanks to his time with D’Antoni in Phoenix, went from not playing in seven weeks to playing 41 minutes the first game back.
The new coach is not going for a long adjustment period. Nash will get big minutes right away. Bryant will get very big minutes the entire way. The Lakers are playing catch-up. This may get even more tiring.