Lost a bit in the background of the Lakers’ season-opening loss was the fact that LeBron James played just 29 minutes on the night. Considering the last time these two sides met, LeBron played all but mere seconds of the contest — and then nearly retired afterward — it’s certainly noteworthy he played 20 fewer minutes on Tuesday.
Part of the reason the Lakers brought back their core and added a couple of pieces around it was to insulate themselves enough to allow LeBron to either play fewer minutes or rest and avoid injury. Still, there was a bit of sticker shock seeing that actual plan play itself out in Denver.
“I always want to be on the floor,” LeBron said postgame. “Especially if you’ve got an opportunity to win the game or you feel like you can make an impact. But, I guess there’s a system in place and I’ll follow it.”
Any notion that LeBron isn’t in on the plan to limit his minutes, though, can be swiftly pushed away. LeBron himself confirmed postgame he was neither surprised nor upset about his minutes on Tuesday and that it was a joint gameplan alongside head coach Darvin Ham.
In the past, he’s pushed back on the notion of resting and load managing. However, in Year 21 and coming off a serious injury, perhaps he’s willing to concede a bit more.
The exact number will certainly fluctuate on a game-by-game basis. It’s likely the figure will hover around 30 minutes, which is what he was on pace for on Tuesday. LeBron played 29 minutes exactly and checked out with just under two minutes remaining. Had he finished the game, he would have been at 31 minutes.
“It’ll be a group effort, starting with him first and foremost,” Ham said on how they will decide his workload this season. “But also being mindful of the schedule and what he’s doing on gamedays as well as not in gamedays.”
Darvin Ham on if LeBron James’ 29 minutes will be a trend this season: “We’ll see. In all likelihood, yes.”— Jovan Buha (@jovanbuha) October 25, 2023
Ham added that it could build from that number depending on how James feels and what the team’s training staff decides.
In the first game of the season, it makes plenty of sense to keep his minutes low and let him ease into the season, particularly after he didn’t feature heavily in the preseason. If there was ever a time to not complain about minutes, it would be in a late-October game.
The whole point is to have LeBron available and clicking on all cylinders come playoff time. They had one of those two things last season and it got them to the Western Conference Finals.
The Lakers are playing the long game and didn’t get sucked into any emotional battle against the Nuggets. While LeBron played only 30 minutes, Denver saw Nikola Jokic (36), Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (36), Aaron Gordon (35), Jamal Murray (34) and Michael Porter (30) all play more minutes.
Ham, LeBron and the team have a plan they’re following this season. Monday was the beginning of that plan and, if everything works out accordingly, they’ll reap the benefits in the games that actually matter.
You can follow Jacob on Twitter at @JacobRude.