Before the 2020-21 NBA season started, the general consensus among fans was that LeBron James would take some time to ramp things up this season. Why? Because two months prior to the start of the campaign, James, at the age of 35, led the Los Angeles Lakers to a championship in a season that spanned more than a full calendar year.
Additionally, the Lakers added two players — Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schröder — that were expected to take some of the burden on offense away from James. Harrell and Schröder finished first and second, respectively, in Sixth Man of the Year voting last season.
Now, 25 games into the season, we can safely say that those expectations haven’t come to pass for James. In fact, James is only averaging 0.1 minutes less than he did last season (34.6).
Not one — 0.1.
James’ minutes have been have been especially worrisome as of late. On Saturday, when the Lakers went to double overtime with the Detroit Pistons, James played 46:29. Then, on Monday, when the Lakers forced overtime against the Oklahoma City Thunder, James played 42:31. That’s 89 minutes over the span of two games. The last time James did that was during the 2018 NBA Finals. With all due respect to the Pistons and Thunder, they’re not the 2017-18 Golden State Warriors.
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel is mindful of how many minutes James has played in the last two games, but he hasn’t been overly-concerned about it, mostly because James hasn’t made him feel like it’s been an issue.
“I mean, we don’t want to go to overtime when we don’t have to,” Vogel said after the Lakers’ win on Monday. “But obviously he’s going to want to be in there then.
“We definitely want to be responsible with his minutes.”
James certainly looked spry against the Thunder on Monday. In 42:31, James recorded his third triple-double of the season with 28 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists, and he played all but 18 seconds in overtime.
James was happy to get the win, but he was even more happy that the game didn’t go into double overtime again.
“I’m good with one overtime compared to two overtimes,” James said after joking that his heart couldn’t handle two OTs at age 36 following the prior game. “I can get home a little bit earlier, and my heart don’t feel as bad as it did the other night.”
The Lakers will be looking to avoid overtime when they play the Thunder again on Wednesday, but despite the minutes he’s played in the last two games, James expects to be available for his team.
“I mean, I can sleep right now because the game is over,” James said. “I’m decompressed now, but shit, if we have more time to play, I’m ready to go. I can play right now if I need to go. All I need is a warm-up. I can go into the weight room, get warmed up, and I can go right now.
“So at this point, it’s 10:46 (p.m.). I’m gonna do my usual thing. I’m gonna go home, I’m gonna eat, I’m gonna drink some wine and I’m gonna go to sleep. But that’s just because my body is shut down now. I took a cold shower. My body is starting to shut down, but I’m ready to go home and get into bed at some point. I can’t speak for the team. I don’t know if the team is tired. But I’ll be ready to go.
“When do we play again? Wednesday? I’ll be ready to go.”