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    Lakers’ Ham: LeBron James will ‘in all likelihood’ have minutes limited
    • October 25, 2023

    DENVER — If Tuesday’s season-opening loss to the Denver Nuggets was an indicator of what’s to come, LeBron James could be in line to play his fewest minutes per game of his 21-season NBA career.

    James was limited to 29 minutes in the 119-107 loss to the Nuggets at Ball Arena in Colorado – the third-fewest he’s played in a season opener and 6 1⁄2 fewer minutes than he averaged last season.

    When asked whether that minute total will be a regular occurrence for James, coach Darvin Ham responded, “We’ll see. In all likelihood, yes.”

    James turns 39 in two months and has accumulated the second-most combined NBA minutes in the regular season and playoffs behind only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

    “It’s easy with him to get caught up in the emotion of the game and you tend to forget you want to play these long stretches,” Ham said. “But in order for him to be as effective as possible, we have to be mindful of the minute output and how long his stretches are.”

    General manager Rob Pelinka mentioned before training camp that the team was partnering with James “to help him get all the way to the end” of this season.

    Managing James’ playing time in the latter stages of his career is not only important considering the workload he’s carried throughout his career, but also because of his recent injury history.

    James missed 27 regular-season games last season, including a 13-game absence because of a torn tendon in his right foot – an injury James described as he “pretty much tore the whole tendon” on his foot. He also missed 26 games the previous season and 27 in 2020-21.

    James said after Tuesday’s game that he was “not surprised or upset” by the minutes limit, adding that he talked to Ham and they had a “gameplan” going into the first game.

    It seems like the plan to limit James’ playing time will extend beyond the first game, but Ham acknowledged it could build up over time.

    “It’s going to be a day-by-day process, gauging how he’s feeling, get communication from him, our training staff, our medical staff,” Ham said. “We communicate, collaborate to land on a solid plan.”

    The fewest minutes James has averaged for a season was 33.4 in 2020-21, his third season with the Lakers. He’s averaged at least 34 minutes every other season of his career.

    “I mean, I always want to be on the floor,” James said. “Especially when you got an opportunity to win a game or you feel like you can make an impact. But this is the system in place and I’m going to follow it.”

    James made it clear that he doesn’t feel he needs to change his approach even if he’s playing fewer minutes on a nightly basis.

    He led the Lakers with 21 points (10-of-16 shooting), eight rebounds and five assists, and had an individual plus/minus of plus-7 against the Nuggets – tied for best mark on the team.

    “Besides the fact that we didn’t win, but for me, my performance and what I did individually in the time that I was out there, I was productive,” James said. “I was a plus-7 for the game. No turnovers. I like the no turnovers more than anything.”

    If James continues to play reduced minutes for a significant portion of the season, then his teammates will need to step up more than they did Tuesday.

    The starting backcourt of Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russell combined for 25 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists but shot 8 of 23 from the field.

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    Anthony Davis had 17 points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocked shots but was scoreless in the second half (0 for 6 from the field, no free-throw attempts).

    “That’s on all of us,” Taurean Prince responded when asked about Davis’ second half. “Just making sure that we continue to keep him involved and make sure he stays in the loop with us. Doing that can also help fuel our defense. It goes hand in hand. Just being aware of that in game and getting to what we’re supposed to.”


    When: Thursday, 7 p.m.

    Where: Aren in Los Angeles

    TV/radio: Spectrum SportsNet, 710 AM

    ​ Orange County Register