The Los Angeles Lakers gambled by putting an extremely heavy burden on LeBron James’ shoulders after Anthony Davis suffered an MCL injury in mid-December — which ruled him out for more than a month.
James averaged 32.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 5.8 assists over the 17 games Davis missed, spending 36.4 minutes on the floor per night. What’s more, the four-time NBA champion played as center on a regular basis during the stretch, a position he hasn’t been deployed in often during his 19-year professional career.
James ended up on the sidelines with knee soreness right after Davis’ comeback game, ruling him out for the next five matchups. The 37-year-old All-Star was eventually cleared for a return ahead of Saturday’s clash with the New York Knicks.
Head coach Frank Vogel wanted to give James a lighter shift for what would turn out to be an overtime win for L.A.
“We’ll try to be smarter with his minutes,” Vogel said before the game. “It won’t be a full go, but it will be close to that. We’ll definitely try to be smarter with it.”
Vogel added the Lakers would be more mindful of James’ minutes moving forward.
“Of course. I’m always mindful of his minutes, but it’s one of those things that we’ll have those conversations once he’s back and in full-strength mode,” the head coach said before the game.
In the end, James spent nearly 40 minutes on the court against the Knicks, as the Lakers had to rally back from a 21-point deficit in the second half — and then play extra basketball after they gave up their lead before the end of regulation.
The All-Star forward marked his return from injury with a triple-double, putting up 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.
Vogel hails ‘incredible’ James after win over Knicks
After the Saturday victory, Vogel admitted he was forced to keep James in play longer than he initially planned due to the overtime.
However, the head coach commended his superstar for a “special” performance against the Knicks.
“He’s incredible,” Vogel said. “I guess the time off served him well. We didn’t want to play him 39 minutes. Obviously, the overtime impacted that but just played a great basketball game.
“His defense, his competitive spirit, his IQ is everything to us. The way he scores the basketball and always sets up teammates, it’s rare. He was special tonight. Just a great performance.”
While James wants to play as much as possible though, Vogel stated that the star understands the need to keep an eye on his minutes.
“He’s willing to listen,” Vogel said after practice on Monday. “He understands the big picture, the marathon… Then obviously, sometimes the game requires an adjustment to that.”
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