When Being Amongst The League Leaders Isn’t A Good Thing

Darius Soriano —  January 30, 2012

The Lakers are coming off a nice win over a young, hungry team. The game was hard fought as the Wolves made a furious comeback but the Lakers were able to hold on down the stretch and pull out the win. Considering the Lakers need every win they can get, in a conference where a couple of consecutive losses result in going from home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs to out of the second season entirely, I was happy with the result. Even it provided a few too many teaching moments.

The theme from last night was the Lakers’ big three having a big game, but for the second consecutive night another theme is a bit obscured: in getting the W, the Lakers’ trio of Kobe, Pau, and Bynum played 42, 42, and 36 minutes respectively. This allotment came on the heels of Kobe (42), Pau (39), and Bynum (36) playing heavy minutes just a night earlier. By any standard, this is too many minutes for Kobe and Pau, and even for Bynum it’s a stretch to put in that heavy a load on back to back nights.

And it’s not like Mike Brown doesn’t know it, either. Earlier this month, he spoke openly about the need to reduce Kobe’s minutes. From ESPN Los Angeles’ story on 1/18:

“I hope so,” said Brown on Tuesday at practice when asked about the possibility (of reducing Kobe’s minutes). “I was shooting for 35 minutes (against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday), but there are gonna be times, especially in games like that, that I think we’ll have a chance to win, where that 35 may go to 36, 37 and hopefully no more than that. I wanted to keep it at 35, but I didn’t do a good job with it. “But I do want to get it down, because he’s played a ton of minutes too early.”

After that story was published two weeks ago, the Lakers have played six games. Kobe’s minutes in those contests have been: 41, 44, 36, 39, 42, and 42. Funny, but those totals show movement in the opposite direction than I thought was wanted. It’s to the point that Kobe’s now 2nd in the league in minutes per game right behind Kevin Love and right ahead of Monta Ellis, Luol Deng, Marc Gasol, and LeBron James. As they say on Sesame Street, one of those things is not like the other with the 33 year old, forty thousand career minutes played player sticking out like a sore thumb.

This isn’t an issue that applies only to Kobe, though. Above I mentioned the top 6 players in minutes per game but the guy who’s sitting at 7th is none other than Pau Gasol. His last 6 games show a similar trend in minutes played: 37, 41, 36, 41, 39, and 42. Again, not the ideal trend for a guy who obviously wore down last season and has played a ton of basketball in the past 4 years. (Remember, even though the Lakers got an early vacation last season, Pau still wore his national colors in EuroBasket in leading Spain to a gold medal in that tourney. So even when he got extended rest, he still put in high level, on court work this summer.)

At some point, Mike Brown is going to have to figure out a way to reduce these players minutes. I know the Lakers are fighting for every win and the way the roster is constructed doesn’t provide easy answers in the form of capable alternatives. That said, what needs to be done, needs to be done.

Over at TrueHoop there’s a story about the Spurs falling to the Mavs last night in an overtime game in which neither Tony Parker nor Tim Duncan played in the last 20 minutes of the game. A key passage on Coach Popovich’s approach:

In a schedule-condensed season when fatigue built up over weeks is playing havoc with players all over the league (did you see how tired Blake Griffin got at the end of the Clippers’ win over the Nuggets?) Popovich didn’t play any starter more than 28 minutes. DeJuan Blair, Tony Parker, Tim Duncan … most of the Spurs’ regulars have long-term health concerns. This is one more night none of them got injured. It’s also a little like, say, being a diligent saver. Every time you put money in the bank, you seem like a bit of a spoilsport. People fixate on what you didn’t get to do with that money. But when that rainy day comes, and you’re sitting on all that cash, then you’re the most fun guy in town. The rainy day, for the Spurs, is the playoffs. 

The Lakers’ big guns are not a cell phone plan with with unlimited or roll-over minutes not used last year being applied to this one. Mike Brown needs to find a way to cut back. Because even if the Lakers get the playoff seed they seek, will it matter if they don’t have the legs to play those extra 20 games they’d need to in order to get where they actually want to go? This is the question Mike Brown needs to ask and answer for himself.

Darius Soriano

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