The 36-year-old Bryant will sit out to rest for the second straight game, Lakers coach Byron Scott announced before the game.
"It's extremely difficult, especially playing here, playing on Christmas Day and playing in this city. I love playing here," Bryant said. "The fans have always been great. There's always a lot of energy in the building. At the same time, I've just got to try to be smart. It's really going against my nature, but I've got to be smart about this."
When asked if there was any particular injury hampering him, Bryant cited age and soreness.
"Old age. My knees are sore at this stage of the season," he said. "My Achilles are sore -- both of them. My metatarsals are tight, back is tight. I just need to kind of hit the re-set button."
Bryant also said he'll likely play fewer minutes going forward. When asked about the chances that he'd play Friday in Dallas against the Mavericks, Bryant said, they're "slim right now."
Bryant was listed as probable to play in his 16th career Christmas Day game, but Scott said Bryant notified him of general soreness Thursday morning and decided to sit him out. Scott said he didn't get much resistance from Bryant.
Bryant is averaging 24.6 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game this season.
James had about 553,000 votes at the Eastern Conference frontcourt spot, where New York's Carmelo Anthony ranked second and Chicago's Pau Gasol was third in the results released Thursday. Washington's John Wall topped East guards, and No. 2 was James' former Miami teammate, Dwyane Wade.
Curry had more than 549,000 votes to lead second-place Kobe Bryant among West guards. New Orleans' Anthony Davis had the most votes in the West frontcourt, followed by the Clippers' Blake Griffin and Memphis center Marc Gasol.
Voting runs through Jan. 19, and starters for the Feb. 15 game in New York will be announced Jan. 22.
“It was dramatic,” recalled Kupchak, the Lakers general manager.
Pau Gasol joined the Lakers a few days earlier in a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies. In his debut in purple and gold, the 7-foot Spaniard started and poured in 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting to go along with 12 rebounds and four assists in 35 minutes against the Nets. The Lakers won that game by 15 points, foreshadowing a river of success that soon followed.
It seems so long ago today, with Gasol having departed the Lakers after six and a half seasons to join the Chicago Bulls over the summer. His new team will host his old one on Christmas Day, the first meeting between the two squads since Gasol left Los Angeles.
“It’s going to be hyped up,” said Lakers reserve guard Nick Young, “because Kobe’s been talking about this since summertime, when I asked him about Pau.”
But as he reminisced about Gasol’s initial days with the Lakers, Kupchak gazed up at their past two championship banners gracing the wall of the team’s practice facility in El Segundo, California -- the ones from 2008-09 and 2009-10.
““We would not have those banners if it wasn’t for Pau,” Kupchak said.
I knew that I had to move on. I needed something different. I needed to be in a different position where I could be assimilated, where I could be motivated every single day. Where I could be rejuvenated. Where I could win and strive for greatness again.” -- Pau Gasol on leaving the Lakers
Nor, he added, would the Lakers have appeared in the NBA Finals at the end of Gasol’s first season with the team, when they fell to the Boston Celtics in six games.
"From Day 1, he was terrific for this organization," Kupchak said.
Gasol helped turn around a franchise still searching for an identity after Shaquille O'Neal left in 2004 via trade to Miami. In the first three seasons after O’Neal’s departure, the Lakers missed the playoffs once and twice failed to reach the second round. After Gasol arrived, they reached three straight NBA Finals.
Beyond that, Kobe Bryant’s winning percentage in the three seasons after O’Neal left and before Gasol arrived was .520, but with Gasol by his side, that percentage rose to .689, including 13 playoff series wins.
Gasol proved to be an ideal player for Phil Jackson’s triangle offense, a smart, skilled and unselfish big man who was formidable on his own but even more potent once he teamed up with fellow 7-footer Andrew Bynum to form a tough “Twin Towers” tandem.
Yet Gasol’s legacy with the Lakers isn't without its complications.
For as great as his early years were in L.A., his latter years were riddled with injuries and mixed results. Ultimately, Gasol took less money for a fresh start, accepting a three-year, $22 million deal from the Bulls while spurning a richer offer from the Lakers and a plea from Bryant to stay.
“As much as I went through what I went through here the last couple of years, it kind of wore me out and drained me in different ways,” Gasol told reporters when the Bulls were in Los Angeles last month to face the Clippers.
“And it was still difficult to make that call. Leave the city, the team and a franchise with the fans behind me.
“I had just a gut feeling. I knew that I had to move on. I needed something different. I needed to be in a different position where I could be assimilated, where I could be motivated every single day. Where I could be rejuvenated. Where I could win and strive for greatness again.”
Gasol, now in his 13th season, has indeed rejuvenated his career. He’s averaging 18 points a game, his best mark since 2010-11, and 11.4 rebounds a game, a career-high. He’s also blocking 2.0 shots per game, just shy of his career-high (2.1).
“He felt he needed a rebirth,” Kupchak said. “Sometimes that happens to players, especially veteran players, and clearly that’s been the case with him. He’s playing great. I’m happy for him, for his fresh start, which is what he wanted.”
“His last two, three years with us were wrought with rumor and anxiety,” Kupchak said. “I think it was really hard on him from that one moment when we had a deal that fell through.
“From that point forward, it was just hard -- and understandably so -- on him. Very hard. He did not want that to continue.”
In his book, "Pau Gasol: Life. Vida.," Gasol wrote that he was proud of how he handled the aftermath of that 2011 trade.
“I was able to put everything in perspective and remind myself that I was fortunate to have played for the Lakers, to have won two championships, and to be part of this team,” he wrote.
“I’ve had an incredible career, up to this point, and nobody can take that away from me, regardless of what happens tomorrow.”
He also revealed last month that during negotiations the Lakers offered him a no-trade clause, which only six tenured players have, including Bryant.
Kupchak declined to go into specifics about those negotiations, but he added that Gasol “wanted to pick a place and be in that place with some security.”
By that point, though, the damage was done -- and Gasol was worn out in L.A.
It still stings for the Lakers to have seen Gasol walk in free agency without them getting anything in return, which happened the summer before with another talented center, Dwight Howard.
"Maybe if things would have happened in a different way maybe things would have worked out differently, but I don’t know," Gasol said during his visit to L.A. last month. "You've got to stick to what happened and reality, and now I just have to focus on the present."
That's all the Lakers can do, too. They can only appreciate what Gasol brought them -- banners.
He’s on pace for the worst field goal percentage (37.2 percent) by a player averaging at least 20 field goal attempts per game since Bob Cousy in 1951-52 (36.9%), a time that pre-dates the NBA’s 24-second shot clock.
Bryant has attempted 69 “clutch time” shots this season. No other Laker has more than 15 such attempts. All of his teammates combined have only 61 attempts.
Why has Bryant been so inefficient this season?
Too many mid-range shots
Bryant has attempted 272 mid-range shots this season, second-most in the league behind LaMarcus Aldridge. (Mid-range shots are 2-pointers outside the paint)
Bryant has more mid-range attempts than the Rockets have as a team (235).
He has the worst mid-range field-goal percentage (37.9 percent) of the 14 players with at least 150 mid-range attempts this season.
Thirty percent of Bryant’s shot attempts this season are “long twos” (2-pointers from 16 feet and beyond), which over a full season would be his highest percentage since 2006-07.
His average field goal attempt distance is 15.4 feet this season. That would be the longest average of his career.
Bryant is averaging 10.1 mid-range shot attempts per game this season. He averaged 6.9 before his injury two seasons ago and only 4.7 per game in six games last season.
Bryant is shooting below 40 percent on mid-range shots for the first time since 2007-08. His 37.9 mid-range field goal percentage would be his worst since 2004-05.
He likes low-percentage shots
Ninety three percent of Bryant’s mid-range shot attempts this season are contested.
Bryant leads the league in contested mid-range shot attempts this season (9.7 per game).
Of the 112 players to attempt at least 50 contested mid-range jumpers this season, Bryant ranks 76th in field goal percentage at 37 percent. The average for those 112 players is 40 percent.
Kobe leads the league with 53 contested mid-range shot attempts in the fourth quarter this season.
Of the 111 players with at least 10 contested mid-range shot attempts in the 4th quarter this season, Bryant is 86th in field goal percentage at 28 percent. The average for those 111 players is 38 percent.
Kobe has attempted more contested mid-range shots than his three teammates who have taken the next-most combined – Carlos Boozer, Nick Young and Wes Johnson – but all three of them have a better field goal percentage than Bryant does on those shots.
Not letting others take clutch shots
Bryant is 1-for-7 this season on game-tying/go-ahead shots in the final 24 seconds of the fourth quarter and overtime. The only other Lakers player to take such a shot is Nick Young, who is 1-for-2.
The league average on those shots this season is 27.2 percent.
Only Kemba Walker (3-for-11) has attempted more game-tying/go-ahead shots in the final 24 seconds of the fourth quarter/overtime than Kobe this season.
Over the last four seasons (since 2011-12), Kobe is 7-for-30 (23 percent) on game-tying/go-ahead shots in the final 24 seconds of the fourth quarter/overtime. His teammates are 8-for-22 (36 percent).
In “clutch time” (last five minutes of fourth quarter/OT with score within five points), Kobe has attempted by far the most shots in the league this season. He has 69, while no other player has more than 52.
Bryant has the highest usage percentage in clutch time this season among players with at least 25 clutch time minutes, yet he has the worst effective field goal percentage of the top 13 players in that category.
Data on “contested mid-range shots” is courtesy of SportVu/NBA.com player tracking data
"I really do trust management," Bryant told USA Today Sports in Wednesday's editions. "I mean, I really, really do. They'll get things turned around pretty quickly. I'm not really concerned about that."
Bryant expressed his disappointment at seeing his friend Rondo landing with the Dallas Mavericks after a trade with the Boston Celtics. Rondo, who will be a free agent after the season, met with Bryant over breakfast earlier this season.
"Oh yeah," Bryant told USA Today Sports. "Of course. Of course. But all you can do is control what you can control. We did our part. We did what we could. ... It's not from a lack of effort. It's not from a lack of smarts, so I trust the process. It's hard going through this [expletive], but our management will figure it out."
Part of the team's effort included a pitch to Anthony, who ultimately re-signed with the New York Knicks after a summer free-agency tour.
Each week, ESPN.com Lakers beat writer Baxter Holmes, along with ESPN.com NBA writers Ramona Shelburne and Arash Markazi, will weigh in on three questions that are on the minds of Los Angeles Lakers followers.
1. With the Lakers set to face Pau Gasol and the Chicago Bulls, is there any regret to not keeping Gasol?Holmes: There's definitely regret that things didn't work out better, because in the end Gasol walked away from a multiyear deal with a no-trade clause (as he revealed recently) and took less money to get a fresh start elsewhere. But just look at how well he's playing this season. He needed that fresh start after everything turned sour in L.A. The Lakers can still be happy for him. They wouldn't have won their past two titles without Gasol.
Markazi: I don't think it was up to the Lakers, to be honest. The Lakers offered Gasol a better deal than the Bulls did, but he wanted to compete for another title at the end of his career and he knew that wasn't going to happen with the Lakers after Kobe signed his extension.
2. Is there anything to "figure out," as Kobe Bryant says, when it comes to Bryant's tired legs and keeping his body fresh?Holmes: Nope. The only thing to do is accept reality: He can't handle his current minutes load, nor can he continue to try to carry the offense on his own. He has to start relinquishing control on that end, just like Tim Duncan has done in his later years in San Antonio, but it's hard to see that happening. Maybe he'll start sitting out games to rest and everything will change (as it did against the Warriors on Tuesday night). But until then ...
Markazi: I think the biggest thing to figure out is how will Scott manage Kobe's minutes better. He said during training camp that he would, but that hasn't been the case. Kobe really shouldn't be playing more than 30 minutes this early in the season, and his average should probably be less than 30 minutes per game if he wants to be able to play through the season. He's in danger of hitting a wall at the pace he's on.
3. Would it have made sense for the Lakers to have made a harder push to acquire Rajon Rondo?Holmes: Not really. The Lakers weren't going to part with their protected top-five pick in 2015, and, for as good as Rondo is, that was the right move because that pick could bring them one heck of a prospect in next year's draft. Besides, they can still go after Rondo in free agency, which they'll certainly try to do.
Markazi: Sure, but I don't think the Lakers had much to offer except for expiring contracts. Their first-round pick this season is going to Phoenix if it's outside the top five, and if it's in the top five, they would want to keep it. Rondo is an All-Star and would have been a great addition, but I don't think he's the franchise-saving guard the Lakers need. That'll come down the line in Russell Westbrook.
LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant’s worst nightmare: He sits out to rest, and the rest of the Los Angeles Lakers not only play well in his absence, but dominate -- and they not only dominate, but they do so against the team with the best record in the NBA.
That was Tuesday at Staples Center: a surreal, wacky, pinch-yourself kind of night.
“They kicked our ass,” Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr said after the 9-19 Lakers did exactly that, pounding the 23-4 Warriors 115-105.
The Lakers led by as much as 24 -- their biggest lead of the season.
They tied their season high with 28 assists.
They tied their season high with 12 3-pointers.
They had two separate streaks of nine straight made field goals.
They were so hot, in fact, that Vlade Divac, whom the Lakers traded in 1996 to the Charlotte Hornets for the draft rights to a teenager named Kobe Bryant, sank a half-court shot between the third and fourth quarters that won $90,000 for charity.
By that point, the Lakers were up 95-73 entering the fourth and the crowd was hyped, but when his shot went through, the fans went bonkers and the building turned into a madhouse.
But underlying the Lakers’ biggest win of the season was the notion that has been floating around for a while, one heavily supported by advanced statistics.
So far this season, the numbers indicate that the Lakers have performed better when Bryant is off the court versus when he is on it. And though this was, of course, just one game ...
Not that his teammates were ready to connect the dots, but you could still read between the lines.
“We learned a lot about ourselves [Tuesday night],” said Lakers guard Jeremy Lin, who finished with 11 points and five assists off the bench.
"I think we learned --”
“I would say it’s just another stepping stone."
Ah, so close.
Wayne Ellington started in place of Bryant, scored 12 points and said they showed the rest of the Lakers aren't just out there for “jokes and giggles.”
“We can hoop,” Ellington said. “We just showed that we can hoop. We’re a good team when we all come out together.
As usual, Lakers guard Nick Young, who scored 15 points, was the most outspoken.
“Some guys just played like ‘Django Unchained' -- they were free tonight,” he said.
And what would Young tell Bryant?
“Pretty much going to have to tell Kobe to pass me the ball, pass us the ball,” Young said. “Tell him to take the backseat for a little bit. He can be ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ and I can be Miss Daisy and drive.”
For the record, the Warriors called this a trap game even before tipoff.
“We know we can’t let our guard down just because Kobe is out,” Kerr said before the game. “In many ways, it becomes a more dangerous game. We've got to be ready. They’re going to play well.”
Former Lakers and current Warriors assistant Luke Walton even warned his team, saying, “Hey, you better believe they’re going to be ready to play. Kobe is out and it’s their chance to play and get shots and get minutes.”
The Lakers’ locker room has often been a dismal place this season, even bordering on toxic, but it was as upbeat as ever after the Warriors win.
The 36-year-old Bryant wasn't in the building after Lakers coach Byron Scott told his star guard to meet them for their flight to Chicago for a Christmas Day matchup against the Bulls -- a game Scott said Bryant would start.
Bryant missed Tuesday after a string of bad games, after which he consistently complained about fatigue, leading Scott to finally sit Bryant down after playing him a team-high 35.4 minutes per game this season.
But the biggest question is whether the Lakers can play as they did Tuesday with Bryant in the lineup.
“That’s the challenge -- that we make sure we all try to get on the same page, continue to get on the same page,” Lin said. "You have to ask Coach more so than me, so, yeah."
Scott is optimistic, yet it’s unclear how the Lakers can keep a selfless rhythm with Bryant shooting as often as he does -- a league-high 22.4 attempts per game this season.
“When we go through slumps or periods when we’re not playing well, he takes it upon himself to be the aggressor,” Scott said. “That’s just him. One thing we've talked about is allowing those guys to continue to play. We’ll try that when he gets back.”
Scott added, “I think if he saw how we played tonight, he’d say, 'That was great.'”
(Wait. Did Scott think Bryant wasn't watching? Well, maybe he turned the game off at one point.)
“It takes a lot more pressure off of him, and it takes a lot more wear and tear off him, as well,” Scott continued. “It saves him more than anything, as well. It gives our guys confidence. We’ll try to play the same way. Hopefully, we can.”
The performance no doubt gives other Lakers confidence that they can play without Bryant.
“Sometimes you've got to move your security blanket to the side and just go out and play,” Scott said. “I think that’s what we did tonight. And when he comes back, it shouldn't be any different.”
That said, given how well the Lakers played without Bryant, and given whom they were playing against, it’s easy to jump to conclusions, especially when the data points in one direction.
Through 28 games, the Lakers' net rating -- the difference between offensive and defensive rating -- with Bryant on the court is minus-13.3 points per 100 possessions.
When he's on the bench, it's a whole different story: The Lakers' net rating is plus-11.1 points per 100 possessions.
But to people who point to Tuesday’s performance and to such numbers, Scott said, “I would say [those] people are crazy.”
To him, it was just one of those games.
“I hope we can keep that lightning in the bottle for the next three, four months,” he said. “I don’t know if we can play at that level for the rest of the season.”
It did give Scott a blueprint that he could take to Bryant as proof that team basketball can help the Lakers compete.
“It was great to have a game like this to make that case, just so he knows,” Scott said. “We’re still going to lean on him, but we don’t have to as heavy as we are. That’s kind of the message.”
But why do they have to lean on Bryant? Didn't Tuesday prove that they don’t need to lean on him? That he can just be one cog?
“[Tuesday] was one game,” Scott said. “Again, you’re looking at one game instead of the whole season or a smaller sample, let’s say 20 games or 30 games. We do have to lean on him at times. He’s one of the best players that’s ever played in this game.”
"Emotional, weird, hard to focus," Gasol said of what he expects for his range of emotions Thursday night. "But at the same time, I kind of look forward to it in a way. To see some of the people that I've been through a lot with."
Gasol, who scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds in Tuesday's 99-91 win over the Washington Wizards, signed with the Bulls as a free agent over the summer after spending 6½ years with the Lakers. He knows it's "a little more special" to play on Christmas and is looking forward to facing former teammate Kobe Bryant, who sat out the Lakers' win over the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday to rest.
"He's playing really well," Gasol said of Bryant. "I think it's impressing a lot of people about what he's able to do at this point in his career. And all his accomplishments and milestones that he's achieving are incredible. It must be hard for him to lose most of the games, but they have a pretty new team with a lot of new faces and a new coach, a lot to adjust to. And the Western Conference, you get no breaks, it's no joke, and everybody's going to challenge you and everybody wants to beat the Lakers, too, so it's kind of hard but I think they'll improve."
There will be another reunion Thursday, with Lakers power forward Carlos Boozer
Most figured that without their star, the Lakers would get blown out big time by the 23-3 Golden State Warriors, which of course would quiet down anyone saying the Lakers actually perform better when the 36-year-old Bryant isn't on the court, as advanced statistics indicate.
But then something happened.
The Lakers flipped the script, played by far their best game of the season and dominated the Warriors, leading by as much as 24 -- their largest lead of the season. Kobe’s worst nightmare? Good thing no one will jump to conclusions.
Play of the game: There were many big shots, but none bigger than the half-court shot Vlade Divac sank between the third and fourth quarters to win $90,000 for charity. The Lakers were rolling at that point, up 95-73, and everything in the world seemed to be going their way. And then Divac, a former Laker who in 1996 was traded to the Charlotte Hornets for the draft rights to a teenager named Kobe Bryant, came onto the court in a red sweater and buried the shot. The crowd went absolutely bonkers.
Stat(s) of the night: The Lakers tied their season-high with 28 assists, tied their season-high with 12 3-pointers and had seven players score in double figures, led by Carlos Boozer, who scored 18 points and grabbed nine rebounds. But you knew the Lakers were going to be hot when they went on two separate streaks of making nine straight field goals in a row. They shot 51.7 percent.
Turning point: In the third quarter, the Warriors charged back behind Stephen Curry, cutting the Lakers' lead to 10. But the Lakers didn’t back down. Wayne Ellington, who started in place of Bryant, hit a huge 3-pointer, and the Lakers eventually pushed the lead back to 21.
The NBA's No. 3 career scorer sat out for the first time this season to rest his tired legs, a decision made by coach Byron Scott.
The 36-year-old shooting guard, averaging 35.5 minutes through the first 27 games of his 19th NBA season and shooting just 37.2 percent, was 3 for 15 in a one-point loss to Oklahoma City last Friday and 8 for 30 with nine turnovers in a seven-point defeat at Sacramento on Sunday.
Stephen Curry had 22 points and six assists for the Warriors, who lost for only the fourth time in their first 27 games.