For just the second time this season, LeBron James was a healthy scratch for the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday, as he sat out of the team's loss against the Detroit Pistons. Granted, it was a decision he had a say in, but that hasn’t made playing less minutes and sitting out while being completely healthy any easier for him.
Following the Lakers’ loss to the Toronto Raptors on Thursday in the first leg of the team’s road back-to-back, James told reporters that having a limited availability has been difficult for him so far (via Spectrum SportsNet):
“It’s challenging for me mentally because I’m so accustomed to being out on the floor, especially when I’m healthy, but it was a conversation between myself and my trainer and the coaching staff and the front office, and this is the direction they wanted to go with the remainder of the season given the lack of success we’ve had as a ball club.
“I trust the people in charge and that’s what it is.”
James was already averaging the fewest minutes per game he’s played in his career, but with the Lakers now eight games back of the eighth seed in the Western Conference, he’s now playing a little less than his season average (35.3 MPG). Over the last four games as part of a minutes restriction, he’s averaged 31 minutes per game. In the four games before that, James was averaging 39.8 minutes per game, which is closer to his career average (38.6 MPG).
It goes without saying, but this season has been very different for James, to say the least. His minutes restriction isn’t only affecting him, though.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton told reporters that James’ limited availability, coupled with the team’s plethora of injuries, has made it difficult for him to keep competitive units out on the floor:
“With the injuries we have and LeBron being on a minutes (restriction) … watching his minutes, we’ve got to get creative with our lineups and making sure we have groups out there that give us a chance to win still, because ultimately we’re trying to get a win each and every time out.”
It’s an unfortunate situation for both James and Walton, but one that will benefit the Lakers in the long run.
The less James plays, the higher chance the other team has of winning. Every game the Lakers lose brings them closer to having a top-10 pick and they’re currently two games back in the loss column of having the eighth-best odds to win the NBA Draft Lottery.
A LeBron James team isn’t supposed to tank, but that’s exactly what the Lakers should do to close out the season. Having James sit out games while completely healthy certainly helps that cause.