December 28, 2014

LOS ANGELES (AP) Kobe Bryant returned to the Los Angeles Lakers' lineup Sunday night against Phoenix after taking three games off to rest.

Coach Byron Scott didn't know how many minutes Bryant's return will last, and he had no predictions about how much rest Bryant will need going forward in the winter.

But the former Lakers teammates are determined to figure out how to preserve Bryant's 36-year-old body for the rigors of his 19th NBA season, even if it means taking more games off in the near future.

''When you get to this point in your career, you have to listen to your body a little bit more,'' Scott said. ''I think he's being smart, allowing me to say, `OK, let's sit this game,' and not put up a fight and just trusting in me. I thought that was big for us.''

Bryant skipped three games in four days surrounding Christmas due to an overall soreness, missing the Lakers' upset win over Golden State before a brutal back-to-back road trip in Chicago and Dallas.

The third-leading scorer in NBA history played just six games in the previous 18 months before this season due to two major injuries. Although he has looked much like his former self for long stretches this season, Bryant has been more aware than ever of his susceptibility to fatigue and injury, and he's handling himself accordingly.

''I just think he understands right now that he has to get as much as he can out of his body while he can, and then sometimes we're going to have to sit down,'' Scott said. ''The body will get you to change a little bit when it starts talking to you. I think we all know that Kobe is one of the smartest players in this league, so he starts to listen, just like everybody else.''

After showing up to Staples Center more than three hours early for a pregame workout, Bryant largely ran the point in the opening minutes against the Suns, focusing on playmaking instead of the physical grind of being a scorer. He had made just 29.2 percent of his shots in his last five games before his rest.

Scott hopes to reduce his minutes from their current 35.4 per game, aiming to play Bryant roughly 32 minutes each night. Bryant also is still skipping most practices with his teammates, although he chafes against that restriction.

But Scott can't promise Bryant won't play extra minutes if a game is on the line for the Lakers, who are still scuffling at the edge of respectability despite their injury woes.

''He only knows one way to play,'' Scott said. ''If he's on the court, he's going to play all-out. He doesn't take plays off, so you know you've got to sometimes save a guy from himself.''

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