Kobe Bryant’s stat line shows he needed 29 shots to reach a game-high 30 points and that he missed 20 times from the field, but the future Hall of Famer managed to play nearly 44 minutes despite a sore back and contributed in ways other than just scoring to help the visiting Los Angeles Lakers beat the Washington Wizards, 102-96, on Friday night to end a four-game slide.
Bryant added seven rebounds, seven assists and two steals and made 11 of 13 from the foul line in playing at least 40 minutes for a fourth straight game, and he’s logged at least 30 points each time, including 31 in Thursday night’s 116-107 loss to the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. It was in that game when Bryant’s back began to spasm, prompting the NBA’s leading scorer to wear a heating pad during stoppages and while kneeling courtside waiting to re-enter the game.
“I mean it’s pretty stiff,” said Bryant, who recently became the fifth player in NBA history to reach 30,000 career points. “I mean, you know it’s better going into tonight’s game than it was going into Thursday’s game, so it’s very encouraging. I mean you sleep wrong one time, and all of a sudden your back’s [acting] up.”
With 2 minutes 14 seconds left in regulation on Friday night, Bryant grimaced when he fell hard to the floor after scoring on an alley-oop pass from guard Jodie Meeks. Bryant got up slowly and made his way to the other end of the court with a slight limp, but moments later he tipped in center Dwight Howard’s missed foul shot to give the Lakers a 102-93 advantage.
While Bryant played through the ailment, he got considerable help from guard Jodie Meeks, who scored a 24 points on 9-for-14 shooting. He made 4 of 7 three-pointers and had five rebounds. Howard chipped in with 12 points and a game-high 14 rebounds, and Metta World Peace scored 13 points, although he went 0 for 6 from three-point range.
“So be it. We need a win,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said of Bryant playing nearly 90 minutes on consecutive nights. “We’ll figure out the rest of that stuff, and we do have to watch his minutes as we go, but as soon as we get some guys back, we can watch his minutes hopefully. I’m not promising anything.”
Bryant’s extended minutes came in part because the Lakers played Friday night without several significant contributors, including center Pau Gasol, point guard Steve Nash and forward Jordan Hill. Gasol has been out since Dec. 4 with tendinitis in his knee, and Nash appears closer to coming back from a broken left fibula, saying he expects to practice next week.
Hill, meantime, was a late scratch just before the start of the Lakers’ first win since Dec. 5 because of back spasms.
“I’m not tired,” Bryant said. “I’m sore, but I just want to play. If you have an opportunity during the game to sit me, then sit, but I’m not tired.”