- Dave McMenamin, ESPN Staff Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- After a historically bad shooting game, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant admitted fatigue might have been a factor after the Lakers' 88-85 win over the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday.
"Fatigue might have something to do with it, but I had good shots," Bryant said after starting the game 0 of 15 before finishing 3 of 21 from the field. "You figure ways to work through it. I have a great team here and a lot of support. I really pushed myself defensively tonight to get after the guys, so sometimes you have to sacrifice a little bit of the offense and the stamina that you have to defend. That's what we believe is going to get us to the championship."
Bryant, 33, ranks third in the NBA playing 38.6 minutes per game. The 16-year veteran said his tired legs have come from the compact 66-game schedule caused by the lockout more so than playing nearly five minutes more per game than he did last season.
"It's probably the schedule," Bryant said. "The schedule is a little crazy. But, I'm fine. It's going to be OK. I'm going to figure it out. I always have."
Along with the increase in minutes has come a decrease in shooting accuracy for Bryant. He is shooting just 42.5 percent for the season, the lowest of his career since he shot 41.7 percent as a rookie in 1996-97.
Bryant's last five games have been a particularly rough stretch as he's gone just 31 for 102 (30.4 percent). Saturday was the first game that Bryant had gone scoreless through the first three quarters in a game where he played 20 minutes or more since March 28, 1998 at Utah. Furthermore, Bryant has taken 20 field goal attempts or more 575 times in his career and his 3 for 21 (14.3 percent) performance against New Orleans was his lowest shooting percentage in those games. His previous low happened less than two weeks ago when he shot just 3 for 20 at home against Utah.
Bryant's 0-for-15 start was also the most consecutive misses he's had to start a game, breaking his previous low of going 0 for 13 on Dec. 28, 2010 in San Antonio.
Lakers coach Mike Brown said he did not believe Bryant's struggles against New Orleans were tied to him playing a game-high 38 minutes and 19 seconds. With 14 games left in the regular season and the Lakers holding a tenuous lead in the Pacific Division over the Los Angeles Clippers, Brown is trying to balance resting Bryant while still winning games.
"I'd love to be able to not play him 38 (minutes). Obviously a couple minutes less would be ideal, but sometimes that's how it goes," Brown said. "Hopefully I can get his minutes down from what it is throughout the rest of the year because that would be ideal."
The coach said last week he has no plans to give Bryant a game off to rest as the Lakers head down the stretch.
Brown also praised Bryant's defense Saturday that resulted in three steals, and said he had no problem with Bryant's shot selection against the Hornets.
"It's no surprise that he's our guy and he's going to get shots and he's going to have to make shots if he takes them," Brown said. "I have the belief that he will make those shots. I look at his shot selection tonight and I thought it was great. He just missed them."
Despite Bryant's struggles, he made the go-ahead 3-pointer with 20.2 seconds left Saturday to help seal the win for the Lakers.
"If I would have missed that shot, everybody would have killed me," Bryant said. "It was a two-point game. I could have easily thrown the ball in to Drew (Andrew Bynum) or Pau (Gasol) or something like that."
Bynum said Bryant's confidence did not waver as he fought through an oh-fer start to the game.
"Kobe never gets down on himself," said Bynum.
Bryant's confidence was beaming, actually, after the game as he had already shrugged off his shooting struggles and turned an eye towards the postseason.
"The thing you have to remember is come playoff time, we'll be well rested, we'll be very prepared, we'll have a lot of size and we have speed now with (Ramon) Sessions and it's a matchup problem for a lot of people," Bryant said. "So, the issues that we kind of run into when you see us win five games in a row and then get a little tired, because we're an old team, we're not going to have those issues come postseason."
Added Bryant: "I wouldn't bet against this team."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.