Dave McMenaminESPN Staff Writer3 min read
DENVER – LeBron James started his 21st season by playing just 29 minutes in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 119-107 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday. Lakers head coach Davin Hamm said reducing the 38-year-old superstar’s workload is part of the team’s future plans.
“It’s easy for him to get caught up in the emotion of a game and you tend to forget you want to play for such a long time, but in order for him to be as efficient as possible we have to pay attention to the output per minute, how long his stretches are,” Ham said.
The Nuggets led by 18 points, stormed through Los Angeles in the first quarter and used the energy of a raucous Ball Arena crowd to celebrate the first ring night in franchise history.
James was done for the night as 19,842 chanted “Who’s your daddy?” to mock the Lakers in the final minute, with the Lakers trailing 115-103.
James still led Los Angeles with 21 points on 10-for-16 shooting and tied for a team-high with eight rebounds. He had five assists, zero turnovers, and his plus-minus of 7 was the best among the Lakers’ starters.
“Listen, I mean, I always want to be on the court. Especially when you have a chance to win a game or you feel like you can make an impact,” James said after the game. “But that’s the system in place and I’m going to follow it.”
When asked if he needs to adjust his approach and play less minutes each night, James made it clear that he’s confident in his ability to impact the game with more rest.
“Besides the fact that we didn’t win,” James said, “I think for me, my performance and my individual performance on the court, I think I was productive. I think so. I mean Yes, I scored a +7 in this game. No mistakes. No mistakes is my favorite thing.”
James averaged 35.5 minutes per game last season, his second-most minutes in five seasons with the Lakers, before ultimately missing 27 games with a right foot injury.
At Los Angeles media day earlier this month, Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka said the team “worked” with James to develop a plan that will take him “all the way to the end” this season “.
Hamm said the decision was made in consultation with James’ longtime athletic trainer, Mike Mancias. James said he was “not surprised or upset” by the way he managed his minutes against the Nuggets.
While the team plans to keep James’ playing time in the 28-30 minutes range when the new season begins, Hamm said that number could fluctuate over time.
“It’s going to be a day-by-day process, gauging how he’s feeling, communicating with him, our training staff and our medical staff,” Hamm said.
James’ adjusted role will increase Los Angeles’ need to get 30-year-old big man Anthony Davis into a productive role.
Davis led Los Angeles with 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting in the first half for Denver, but was held scoreless in the second half on 0-for-6 shooting.
“They started double-teaming,” Davis explained. “They were trying to squeeze into the paint. I missed some easy layups and little jumpers around the rim. Just trying to make the right play and get it to our guys. If I get double-teamed, just kick it out .Rui (Hachimura) had an open three and Gabe (Vincent) had an open three. They just didn’t fall. But I have to shoot more.”
Vincent, who scored six points on 3-for-8 shooting in his Lakers debut, acknowledged the need for Davis to be involved, but said Los Angeles also needs every player to be looking for shots to optimize the overall offense.
“I think we’re going to continue to try to get him involved,” Vincent said. “But it’s important that everyone stays aggressive. I think a lot of times we’re caught standing still and watching. I think we all have to be aggressive and compete. We’re going to continue to find him and continue to find ways to be aggressive Sex and all that, so, we’ll start there.”