At age 32, LeBron James is averaging 37.6 minutes per game, second most in the NBA (he’s 11th in total minutes at 1,768 due to some missed games). Only two other players 30 or older — Kyle Lowry and Wesley Matthews, that latter of whom missed time this season due to injury — are in the top 20 in minutes played per game. A heavy workload is usually a young man’s game.
However, this was by design. Coach Tyronn Lue has said previously the plan, in consultation with LeBron, was to have him around 38 minutes a game to start the season, but to taper that starting in late January or so, making sure he is rested and fresh for the playoffs.
Except that’s not happening. LeBron has averaged 39.7 minutes a night the last 10 games. And it’s not going to change anytime soon, reports Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal.
“He’s being bull-headed about it,” Lue said Wednesday. “He doesn’t want to back down because he says he’s in a good rhythm right now.”
“I’m fine,” James said. “Coach is going to do a good job of looking at my numbers and trying to get me rest throughout the game, but I don’t see me having slowed down. My numbers are up. We’ve been in a good groove and if I get rest (a) couple minutes here throughout the game, couple minutes there, off days, things of that nature, it helps the body. But it’s whatever coach wants to do.”
Competitors don’t want to come out and take nights off, LeBron is not going to push for extra rest unless he feels his body really needs it. Right now, he doesn’t.
But this is where Lue and team management need to step in, thinking ahead to both the playoffs and the rest of LeBron’s career. The Cavaliers are going to need peak LeBron James to have a shot at a title repeat, and that means getting his body more rest over the next few months, whether he wants it or not. And long term, the Cavaliers just need LeBron.
There is another consideration here: The Cavaliers have just a 2.5 game lead over the Celtics for the No. 1 seed in the East. Cleveland wants that home court to ease their path back to the Finals (they are not going to catch Golden State, and likely not even San Antonio, for best record overall). While the Cavs can rest LeBron and still get wins, Lue needs to be careful playing with fire. And the Celtics are a very not team right now.