LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant gladly will deal with sore muscles from playing nearly every minute in order to help push the Los Angeles Lakers into the playoffs.
Steve Nash could return from a hamstring issue for Friday night’s home matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, though, potentially easing the burden on the 34-year-old Bryant.
“I feel sore right now. My back is a little sore and my hamstrings are a little sore,” Bryant said after recording his 19th career triple-double with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists while playing all but 56 seconds of Tuesday’s 101-81 win over Dallas.
“… I just have to push through it a little bit right now. Hopefully we can get a game and get a little breathing room.”
Los Angeles (38-35), which leads Utah by one-half game for the Western Conference’s final playoff spot, has won three of four. Bryant also played more than 47 minutes of Saturday’s 103-98 victory at Sacramento after Nash was injured early in that contest before sitting out Tuesday.
Metta World Peace also has been out after having surgery to repair a torn left meniscus.
Coach Mike D’Antoni said he needs to monitor Bryant’s minutes due to the upcoming schedule. The Lakers face the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday afternoon before a back-to-back – Tuesday versus New Orleans and Wednesday at Portland.
Los Angeles then finishes with home games against Golden State, San Antonio and Houston.
“We have to watch it because we have to play Friday and Sunday, so we’ve got to be careful,” D’Antoni said. “Going forward we’re going to try and get him some more time, get Steve back and get (Bryant) some more time (to rest).”
Bryant got plenty of help Tuesday, as Dwight Howard posted his 14th straight double-double with 24 points and 12 rebounds while Earl Clark added 17 points and 12 boards off the bench.
“We have a tougher schedule, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Bryant said. “If you want to get to the playoffs and expect to make some noise, you have to beat playoff teams and that includes Memphis and the Clippers and those types of guys.”
The Grizzlies have hosted and won both meetings with the Lakers this season. Zach Randolph posted a double-double and Mike Conley had 19 points in each victory.
Memphis (51-24), coming off a 94-76 win over Portland on Wednesday, has won four straight and is battling Denver for the West’s only top-four seed which won’t go to a division winner.
“Obviously, we are chasing that home-court advantage so need we need every (win) we can get,” said Conley, who scored a game-high 20 points Wednesday and is averaging 21.0 over his last six.
Coach Lionel Hollins, though, is more concerned with simply finishing the season in strong fashion.
“The players may think about (home-court advantage), but I just want us to play well,” Hollins said. “We had home-court last year (against the Clippers) and we lost the series. We’ve been in series where we didn’t have home court and we won. Wherever you go you’ve just got to play well.”
While the Grizzlies, allowing an NBA-low 89.8 points per game, have already wrapped up a playoff berth, the Lakers aren’t feeling as comfortable.
“We’re desperate, and the players know it,” D’Antoni said.
Bryant has averaged 29.5 points in this season series, but Howard has totaled nine and a sore shoulder caused him to miss the second half of the last meeting – a 106-93 defeat Jan. 23.