Phil Jackson open to increasing Kobe Bryant’s playing time; Pau Gasol downplays illness

My Mark Medina

Even with the heroics and athleticism Lakers guard Kobe Bryant displayed in the 106-90 Game 5 victory over the New Orleans Hornets while nursing a sprained left ankle, Coach Phil Jackson remained curious how Bryant’s body would respond, including a Wednesday afternoon flight to New Orleans for the Game 6 matchup on Thursday.

Still, despite Jackson’s revelation that Bryant’s left ankle remains sore and that he spent Wednesday’s practice working on on minimizing the swelling, Jackson expects to increase Bryant’s minutes.

“This is a game we go all out to win,” Jackson said after Wednesday’s practice at the team’s facility in El Segundo, which mostly consisted of film sessions and the reserves playing in a half-court scrimmage. “If this is 40 minutes, we’ll do it.”

Bryant played 28 minutes during Game 5 partly for precautionary measures on his left ankle and the Lakers building a sizable lead. After Bryant logged 40 minutes in Game 1, Jackson said he held Bryant to 36 minutes in both Games 2 and 3.

“We’re certainly not out of the woods on this kind of situation just because he played the day after or two days after he sprained his ankle,” Jackson said. “There’s still a lot of things going on that we can wait for each game we can get and get through this series in the best possible shape we can at this point. There’s nothing we can do about it except playing with it.”

Bryant’s not the only one monitoring his health. Jackson revealed before Game 5 that Lakers forward Pau Gasol had an upper respiratory illness, part of the reason why he played inconsistently in his post presence and aggressiveness and averaging only 6.3 rebounds. After posting 16 points on six-of-12 shooting with eight rebounds in Game 5, Gasol downplayed the illness.

“A little,” Gasol asked if it’s affected him. “I don’t know how much. I’m not 100% sure. I just play. Some nights I play better than others. Some nights I feel better. It’s something that’s been going on. But I never talk about it or bring it up because it is what it is.