National Basketball Association

Could LeBron James' extended minutes be costly for the Lakers?

February 10

The NBA's defending champs are on a tear.

The Los Angeles Lakers won their fifth consecutive game Monday, tying the Milwaukee Bucks and Utah Jazz for the longest active winning streak in the league with an overtime victory against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

LeBron James led the way for the Lakers with 28 points, 14 boards and 12 assists for his third triple-double of the season and his second in three games.

In addition to leading the Lakers in those categories, he set the pace for the team with 42 minutes played in the 119-112 win.

Saturday against the Detroit Pistons, James clocked 46 minutes in a 135-129 double-OT win, making Monday night the first time he had gone 40-plus minutes in back-to-back regular-season wins since 2018.

Keep in mind, he's doing this at age 36, in his 18th season in the NBA

There's also the fact that he's coming off the shortest offseason not just in league history but also in the history of the NFL, the NHL and MLB, due to the pandemic, per ESPN.

Given all those circumstances, it would stand to reason that James might sit out a few games or at least dial back the minutes.

"Load management" has been the craze in the NBA in recent years, after all, and it was a talking point for James and the Lakers before the season tipped off around Christmas.

But James has started all 25 games for the 19-6 Lakers in this condensed NBA season.

Although his average of 34.5 minutes per game is the lowest of his lengthy career, he's still tied for 25th in that category as of Tuesday morning.

Of the seven NBA players who have started 25 games this season, James ranks third with 34.5 minutes per game. He clocks in behind a pair of New York Knicks players in Julius Randle (age 26) and RJ Barrett (age 20), who play for Tom Thibodeau.

And it's no state secret that Coach Thibs likes to squeeze extra minutes out his players.

Will these extended minutes wind up cost the Lakers in the long run?

Skip Bayless preached caution on Tuesday's "Undisputed" while sensing a hint of desperation from James in his quest to add to his GOAT credentials. 

"There's one [stat], it's the golden chalice out there. It's the be-all and the end-all. It's Kareem's all-time points scored. ... He can do it, but he needs to keep on keeping on."

If James has his eyes on Abdul-Jabbar's record of 38,387 points scored, he'll need to rack up more than 3,500 over the next few seasons.

That's still a long way off. The more immediate goal for James & Co. is defending the NBA title, which Shannon Sharpe said factors into The King's playing extra minutes.

"They got off that unbelievable start last year. Remember, they were 20-3, [but] the West is a little better this year. I think the thing is ... he wants to come out of the ball game, but you're jockeying for seeding, and seeding matters."

Whether or not he's being overworked, what James and the Lakers are doing right now is working. 

The oddsmakers at FOX Bet are projecting big things for L.A. down the stretch, with the Lakers favored to win the title at +240 and LeBron the MVP favorite at +225.

With a healthy James, the sky is the limit. He and the Lakers will have to be careful, however, that they don't get too close to the sun.

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