One day after surpassing Wilt Chamberlain for fifth on the NBA all-time scoring list, LeBron James was held out of practice ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers embarking on a three-game road trip to Orlando, Miami and Cleveland.
“Just to get treatment and keep him fresh for this road trip coming up,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton explained.
In addition to scoring a season-high 44 points, James faced the most physical defense of the year. In one instance, he was hit in the head on a foul in the fourth quarter and shortly after was pulled down the floor on another foul.
“We’ll see how I feel in the morning,” answered James after the Lakers defeated the Portland Trail Blazers to extend their winning streak to four games.
Walton said he is “always OK with physical defense” so long as it’s permitted throughout the game and not with an intent to inflict harm. “He takes a beating out there. He really does, every time he drives,” Walton said of James.
“You have to put hands on him, you have to put elbows into him because of his size and strength. If you looked at video, he could probably shoot 100 free throws a game if everything was called. It was the same when I played with Shaq. Shaq used to get fouled a lot and not get free throws. [James] does a great job of playing through that either way and making plays.”
Walton did not necessarily give an indication of James’ physical state on Thursday, though said it “seemed like he was in good spirits.”
How Walton and the Lakers would manage James’ minutes in his 16th season was a focal point. Walton made it clear his preference would be for James to sit out practices rather than games, but that the two would remain in constant communication throughout the season.
James recently asserted that while coaches attempt to limit his minutes, he performs at a higher level when allowed to spend more time on the court.