The Lakers squandered a double-digit lead against the Wizards, forced overtime, and then lost in the extra session, 127-124, their third straight defeat and fourth in their last five games. James led Los Angeles with 31 points, nine rebounds, and 13 assists, but he also had eight turnovers and played 43 minutes.
James’ extended minutes are part of a worrying trend. After playing the fewest minutes in the playoffs during the Lakers’ run to the 2020 championship, he played an average of just 32.4 minutes in the Purple and Gold’s first eight games of the season, per Sam Quinn of CBS Sports. But those minutes have increased to 37.5 in the Lakers’ last eight games.
With Anthony Davis set to miss weeks of action to recover from an injury and Dennis Schroder also sidelined in the team’s last three games, James has had to shoulder more load on offense. It’s a lot of responsibility, especially for a player who is 36 years old and in his 18th season.
But James dismissed the notion of resting even after playing in another overtime game, saying that the narrative is being blown out of proportion:
“I’ve never talked about it, I don’t talk about it, I don’t believe in it,” the four-time champion said after the game, per ESPN. “We all need more rest, s—. This is a fast turnaround from last season, and we all wish we could have more rest. But I’m here to work, I’m here to punch my clock in and be available to my teammates.”
LeBron James may not want to spend more time on the bench, especially as the Lakers continue to struggle in the absence of two of their top three scorers, but he may need to. The Purple and Gold are coming off the shortest offseason in NBA history, and defending the title they won in Orlando means going through some tough challenges in the Western Conference against the likes of the Utah Jazz and Los Angeles Clippers.
Playing these kinds of minutes simply isn’t ideal:
The list of players that have played more minutes than LeBron this season:
1. Julius Randle
2. Fred VanVleet
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) February 23, 2021
James doesn’t have anything to prove by playing more minutes in the regular season, and the Lakers have little to gain from extending his minutes in the hopes of squeezing out more wins. Even though a better record would give them a more favorable matchup in the earlier rounds of the playoffs, they have two of the league’s best players in James and Davis when healthy, and the main priority right now is to keep it that way.
It won’t be the last time the subject of giving the four-time MVP more rest will come up, and LeBron James will most probably insist he doesn’t need it. But if the Lakers want to preserve The King when it matters most and avoid any unnecessary risks, they may need to take the initiative and lessen his minutes before what is likely going to be another grueling playoff run.