Heading into this season, Tyronn Lue wanted to restrict LeBron James’ minutes. Now, it’s different.
Over the course of his 14-year career, James has logged more than 41,000 minutes in the regular season alone. He’s led the league in minutes per game twice, including this year with 37.8 at 32-years-old. In addition to that, James has played 8,558 more minutes in the postseason and averaged more than 40 a night in all but two playoff runs.
This year, in the first round against the Indiana Pacers, James played 175 minutes in the four games, but that intense workload doesn’t bother Lue. “Of course, we’re always cognizant of LeBron’s minutes, but in looking at this situation, we didn’t look at the minutes as an issue,” said the coach to ESPN’s Dave McMenamin. It makes more sense to close out the series and have the additional rest versus playing potentially, even more, minutes, potentially 96-144 more minutes. Closing out and the rest that comes with it far outweighs the other potential scenario.”
Cleveland closed the series on Sunday, Apr. 23 and, by next Monday, either the Bucks or Raptors will have to face a Cavaliers team who spent the last eight days resting. On paper, James workload looks strenuous. Apparently, it didn’t have an impact on James, who almost single-handedly swept the Pacers. He was radically efficient, and his all-around play was at a level similar to last postseason. His usage was high, and he played both ends of the floor.
James led the way with 32.8 points, 9.8 rebounds and 9.0 assists while shooting 54.3 percent overall and 45 percent from three. He collected 12 steals and swatted eight shots in the four games, so it’s clear he wanted to close out the Pacers quickly and have that additional rest, as Lue alluded to.
Judging from the last two postseason runs, LeBron is willing to do whatever necessary for his team to win. “Coaches always ask me how I’m feeling throughout the game, and I feel great,” said James when asked about his extended time. “If I’m out on the floor and I’m hurting us by playing a lot of minutes, then I need to come out. But in this series, I played a lot of minutes, and I felt great. I actually could have played the whole game if need be.”
The elephant in the room is James’ production when having to stay out there for so long. Way back in 2006, when he was 21, LeBron played in his first playoffs and averaged 46.5 minutes over the 13 games. His numbers were just as outrageous as they were this year: 30.8 points on 47.6 percent shooting, 8.1 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 1.4 steals. He also averaged five turnovers, but James has always been a relatively high turnover player.
Year in and year out, LeBron has played a gluten of minutes while putting up huge numbers, even during his later years. It’s key for players to stand the test of time for as long as possible, and James has, arguably, done it better than anyone.
According to Basketball Reference, 38 guys averaged 40 minutes a game for their postseason career. Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Larry Bird and Jerry West are just four of the esteemed alumni. Of the collective, just nine averaged 25 points. James is the only one to average at least eight rebounds and six assists on top of his points — in fact, his rebounds could drop down to six, and he’d still sit by himself.
Say what you will, but it’s seldom to see James not show up in the postseason. Outside of the 2011 Finals against Dallas, there isn’t much dirt against him. He may not have the same success in the win column but — and this is throughout history — the supporting cast needs to show up.
Jordan didn’t start to win until Scottie Pippen turned into a star; West’s Lakers just didn’t have enough firepower. We’ve seen this with James in the past, and it’s critical that Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love play at an All-Star level. If they don’t, the odds of them winning a title drop drastically. That’s obvious, though.
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