Since they continue to lose whether or not he plays, the Los Angeles Lakers are moving forward with their long-term plan to rest Kobe Bryant in certain situations.
With the aging star expected to sit, the Pacific Division-worst Lakers will try to avoid a fourth straight defeat Friday night when they visit the turnover-happy Utah Jazz.
Bryant finished with 19 points and a career-high 17 assists Thursday, but it wasn’t enough in a 109-102 home loss to Cleveland that was the Lakers’ 12th in 16 games.
They’re 10-24 when the 36-year-old guard plays and 2-4 when he doesn’t.
After playing in the first 27 contests, Bryant has missed six of the last 13 as Los Angeles (12-28) has become more proactive in sidelining him with an eye on next season.
Coach Byron Scott, who has suggested shutting Bryant down if they’re still out of contention in March, said earlier this week that the short-term plan was for the 16-time All-Star to play against the Cavaliers before sitting in Salt Lake City.
"I want to play, but at the same time, I understand his position, and I understand management’s position, and I will do what they ask of me," Bryant said. "But it’s very, very hard for me to miss one game."
Bryant has played well with 31.7 points per game in his last three trips to Utah, though he hasn’t played there since 2012. Wayne Ellington is expected to fill in after averaging 10.9 points in his first seven starts.
With Bryant out, Nick Young poured in 41 points while hitting 6 of 11 from 3-point range in a 119-104 win in Utah on April 14 to give Los Angeles a split of last season’s series. The reserve guard, though, has struggled with 10.3 points per game on 6-of-36 shooting from beyond the arc in his last six games.
Since averaging 13.8 turnovers during a 7-4 stretch, the Jazz (13-26) have coughed up 22.7 giveaways per game in three consecutive defeats. They haven’t lost four in a row since a season-worst nine-game slide from Nov. 21-Dec. 8.
Utah allowed 44 points in the third quarter – a season high for a single period – in a 116-105 home loss to Golden State on Tuesday. The Jazz had given up an average of 92.2 points on 41.9 percent shooting over their previous 10 games.
"I feel like we took a step forward rather than back, even though we lost," said guard Trey Burke, who is averaging 19.2 points in his past five games. "But you can’t really get frustrated because some nights we shoot like that and the other team can’t do anything about it. So we just have to stay with it and play defense."
Derrick Favors finished with 22 points and 11 rebounds Tuesday for his 13th double-double. The red-hot power forward is averaging 21.2 points and 10.2 boards while shooting 60.0 percent in his last five games.
Gordon Hayward, who has scored 21.3 per game in his last four at home, averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 assists and 5.3 boards while making 9 of 18 from 3-point range against the Lakers in 2013-14.
Utah expects to have big man Trevor Booker back after he was sidelined by illness against the Warriors. The Jazz rank in the NBA’s top three with a plus-3.6 rebounding margin, while the Lakers sit in the bottom third at minus-1.8.
Los Angeles center Jordan Hill, who had 20 points Thursday, is scoring 15.5 per game in his last six. He’s totaled 37 points on 15-of-19 shooting over his last two in Utah.