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Mike Brown more concerned with development than limiting minutes

January 31, 2012 |  2:55 pm

Lakers Coach Mike Brown has enough on his mind without worrying about lowering his starters' minutes.

The Lakers at 12-9 would only have the seventh playoff seed if the season ended today. They only have a 2-7 road record and had a stretch of 13 straight games in which they didn't score at least 100 points.

Yet, the playing-time statistics for Kobe Bryant (averaging 38.6 minutes), Pau Gasol (37.7) and Andrew Bynum (34.4) appear just as concerning. Despite Brown's pledge two weeks ago that he'd find ways to reduce their minutes, Bryant and Gasol played the entire second half in the Lakers' 106-101 win Sunday against Minnesota. With the Lakers hosting the NBA-worst Charlotte Bobcats (3-18) before a six-game trip, it would seem logical to presume that a double-digit Laker lead would quickly result in early ice packs for Bryant, Gasol and Bynum.

Apparently not.

"It's more [team chemistry] than a lead," Brown said when asked what would prompt him to lower the Big Three's playing time. "I have to feeI right about what we're doing on both ends of the floor, the combinations I have on the floor, how we're running the combinations and how we're defending. Once that comfort level is closer, hopefully we won't have to run Kobe, Pau or anyone else in the high 30s or low 40s."

Bryant's playing time is up sharply from the 33.9 minutes he averaged last season, partly because of improvement in his surgically repaired right knee and sprained left ankle. Bryant's playing time ranks second in the league behind Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love (39.4), hardly an encouraging trend for the torn ligament in his right wrist and his freshness for the postseason. Gasol has played roughly the same as last year. But his elevated role in 2011 came during Bynum's 24-game absence while rehabbing his right knee. That led to fatigue and, arguably, a poor playoff showing. Bynum, held to 27.7 minutes per game last year because of injury concerns, has experienced the most dramatic increase in playing time this season. Who knows if he can sustain that.

Brown is putting those long-term concerns on hold for now for the sake of solidifying rotations and compiling wins.

"We're trying to find ourselves a little bit still. I'm still searching," Brown said. "Hopefully the process won't take the whole year. But we're still going through that now."

Interestingly enough, Brown told a small group of reporters last month in unprintable language that he doesn't care about playoff seeding so long as his team peaks and remains healthy when the postseason begins. But with how Brown has allocated his minutes to the Lakers' starters, it appears he's hardly following his own philosophy when given many opportunities to do so.

Brown kept Bryant, Gasol and Bynum for most of the fourth quarter in a double-digit loss Jan. 19 against Miami despite the team's game the following night at Orlando. Brown allocated heavy minutes to Bryant (42),  Gasol (38) and Bynum (35) in the Lakers' 100-89 loss Saturday to Milwaukee and didn't rest in the fourth quarter until the final minute despite the large deficit and the team's game Sunday at Minnesota. And after hoping to lower their minutes against Minnesota, Brown said he kept them in to temper the Timberwolves' third-quarter run.

Brown gave the Lakers a day off on Monday, marking the fourth day of rest since training camp begins. It remains to be seen whether the heavy minutes given to Bryant, Gasol and Bynum will expedite the team's learning curve, or just lead to burnout and possible injuries.

"It's a balance we're still trying to figure out if we're developing guys at the right time and the right way," Brown said. "Hopefully we're still getting wins through this process so we're not going to be too far out of the hole or out of the loop when it's all said and done."


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-- Mark Medina

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