- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior Writer
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LOS ANGELES -- Los Angeles Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni knows the risk of playing Kobe Bryant as many minutes as he has during the past four games. He also knows the risks of not using the Lakers' best player as much as possible as the team frantically tries to make the playoffs.
"We're playing a little bit with fire," D'Antoni said of Bryant, who has played 46 minutes a game the past four games. "We wouldn't like to but we put ourselves in the position we have to.
"We're short-handed right now and we're playing it very tight. Normally this wouldn't happen but we put ourselves in a hole and Kobe is our best bet going forward to win games. He said he's going to retire after a year so we're going to get our money's worth for two years. I don't know what to tell you."
Bryant played all but 40 seconds of the Lakers' 109-95 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Sunday. He finished with 25 points, 10 assists and seven rebounds, but shot just 6-for-19 from the field.
He's made just one of his last 21 3-point attempts.
"If he says he feels great and his legs aren't bothering him then I have to take his word for it," D'Antoni said. "If he says 'I'm tired but I want to play through it,' then that's different. But he says he feels great."
Bryant admitted he was tired after Friday's win against the Memphis Grizzlies. He even asked out of the game in the second half.
Sunday though, he said he felt good.
"I feel fine. I get plenty of rest, so I feel fine," Bryant said. "After the last game, I was pretty tired. But I was able to get plenty of rest from the last game until now."
Bryant said he slept most of Saturday. His only activity was playing "Just Dance 4" with his two daughters.
He's been playing such heavy minutes for several reasons. He's got a painful bone bruise in his right foot that tends to stiffen up when he comes out of the game.
Then there's the matter of the Lakers' desperate playoff push. They came into Sunday's game having won three in a row, but still only leading Utah by half a game for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Bryant had previously guaranteed the Lakers would make the playoffs.
"I don't see it as that big of a deal," he said. "We have some tough games ahead. But we go out there and do what we do."
D'Antoni said Sunday he felt the Lakers needed to win all five of their remaining games in order to ensure they'd make the playoffs. That was an opinion, not a fact. But with the Jazz holding the tiebreaker -- meaning the Lakers need to finish a game ahead of them -- it might not be far from the truth.
"The bottom line, we need to win five straight," D'Antoni said. "We've got ourselves to where we need to win five in a row and we get in the playoffs and that's what we want to do."
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