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LeBron James says he wants to play 48 minutes a game, but knows that’s ‘not smart’

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LeBron James would prefer to play more minutes, but understands that Lakers head coach Luke Walton is just doing what’s best for him and the team.

NBA: Phoenix Suns at Los Angeles Lakers Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers have been cautious with the way they’ve handled LeBron James since he signed on with the team in July — perhaps a little too cautious.

Through 23 games this season, James is averaging the fewest minutes per game (34.6) of his 15-year-career. While that might seem normal for a player just a few weeks away from celebrating his 34th birthday, James said he would be playing full games if he had it his way.

“I want to play 48 minutes a game,” James told reporters after practice on Tuesday. “Seriously, but it’s not going to happen. It’s not smart. It’s not smart on anyone’s behalf, but that’s just the competitive side of me. If you ask any competitive guy ... ‘Did you like coming out?’ there’s not going to be one that says yes.

“But at the end of the day you’ve got to do what’s best for the team, and you’ve got to protect yourself as well.”

Lakers head coach Luke Walton admitted that James has expressed his frustration for getting taken out of games in the past, but he said that he just wants to keep his superstar forward fresh for when it’s winning time.

“We have good dialogue about how he’s feeling, but there’s definitely times that I take him out and he seems frustrated because he wants to stay on the floor but a lot of that is depending on the flow of the game is,” Walton said. “I like to not have him close the entire fourth quarter. If he starts the fourth quarter, I try to find a couple of minutes here and there to sit him out just to keep him a little more fresh for those final couple of minutes, but it’s more of a game-to-game type of thing.”

Luckily, James’ playing time hasn’t had any effect on his stats. Like, at all.

He’s averaging 27.8 points per game, the most he’s averaged since he won his first MVP, while shooting 52 percent from the field and draining 36.6 percent of his career-high 5.8 3-point attempts per game. James is also averaging 7.7 rebounds, 6.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game.

The only other players that are averaging 25 points on 50 percent shooting from the field and 30 percent shooting from behind the 3-point line are Kevin Durant, Steph Curry and Anthony Davis. Can you say “MVP candidate?”

Unless the Lakers find themselves in a hole midway through the season, expect Walton to continue to take the conservative approach with James. After all, the Lakers will need him for the games that matter in May.

You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.