With Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James putting together yet another MVP-caliber campaign in his 18th NBA season, questions remain prevalent regarding how much longer he can play at this level. For the first few weeks of the season, James was playing incredible basketball while also playing a career-low in minutes.
This was largely in part due to an 11-man rotation that Frank Vogel played with early on. However, since shrinking his rotation to nine, James’ workload has increased significantly. This was only exacerbated by the injury of Anthony Davis and a string of close games in the middle of the season.
Vogel is working to change this, as he spoke about a new lineup change that is supposed to decrease James’ playing time.
“It’s actually something we’ve done coming into the break,” Vogel said. “The final few games we wanted to use a rotation where instead of him coming out at six and playing that normal rotation with Anthony [Davis] out, with Marc [Gasol] it made sense in extending his third quarter playing him down toward the end and then giving him the first couple minutes of the fourth off. Bring him in about the nine-minute mark to close the rest of the way.
“It’s something that we looked at and we liked it going into the break. We decided we were going to stick with it and see how it looked tonight. He was able to come back in fresh and close the game out.”
In the first 15 games of the season, James averaged just 32.2 minutes per night. Between Game 16 and when Davis suffered the calf strain in early February, that number skyrocketed to 37.3. Clearly, whatever Vogel is doing has been working, as James’ minutes per game have dropped once again to 34.6 since the injury to Davis.
If James can continue to hover at around 32-35 minutes per night while Davis is out, and then drop even lower once he returns, it’s hopeful that he’ll be fresh and ready to go when the postseason arrives.
Regular season wins are great for the standings, but resting James takes precedent at this point in his career.
Vogel shared concerns about second-half schedule
Vogel’s new rotation may work in helping to decrease James’ workload, but that hasn’t eased his concerns over the lack of rest in the second half of the schedule. “It’s a unique situation,” Vogel said. “It definitely is a different type of situation than a normal All-Star break. A normal All-Star break you are probably about three-quarters of the way through the season and you are in a stretch run.
“We’re halfway there. We’re one game away from exactly that. The midpoint of the season. We’ve played 37, we have 35 left. We still have a lot of basketball to be played.”
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