DENVER — LeBron James began his 21st season with a restricted 29 minutes of play in the Los Angeles Lakers’ 119-107 defeat against the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday. The Lakers’ coach, Darvin Ham, stated that this limited workload for the 38-year-old superstar is part of the team’s strategy for the future.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the game’s emotions and forget that we need to manage his minutes in order for him to be as effective as possible. We must be mindful of how long his stretches on the court are,” said Ham.
The Nuggets dominated the Lakers, leading by as much as 18 points. Utilizing the energy from a spirited crowd of 19,842 at Ball Arena, the Nuggets celebrated the first ring night in franchise history.
By the time the crowd began mocking the Lakers with chants of “Who’s your daddy?” in the final minute, James was already off the court, with the Lakers trailing 115-103.
Despite limited playing time, James led the Lakers in scoring with 21 points on 10-for-16 shooting and tied for the team’s highest rebounds with eight. He also contributed five assists with zero turnovers, while achieving a plus-minus of plus-7 – the best among the Lakers’ starters.
“Listen, I always want to be on the floor, especially when I have an opportunity to win the game and make an impact,” James said after the game. “But I understand and will follow the system in place.”
When asked if he’ll need to adjust his approach with fewer minutes per game, James expressed confidence in his ability to impact the game even with added rest.
“Besides the fact that we didn’t win, I believe I was productive during the time I was on the court. I was a plus-7 for the game with no turnovers. I value the fact that I had no turnovers more than anything,” said James.
Last season, James played an average of 35.5 minutes per game, the second highest in his five seasons with the Lakers, and missed 27 games due to a right foot injury.
At the Lakers’ media day earlier this month, Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager, Rob Pelinka, mentioned the team’s collaboration with James to develop a plan that would ensure his performance “all the way to the end” of the season.
Ham revealed that James’ long-time athletic trainer, Mike Mancias, was involved in the decision. James himself stated that he was “not surprised or upset” by the management of his minutes against the Nuggets.
While the Lakers start the season with James averaging 28-30 minutes, Ham noted that this number could vary depending on James’ condition.
“It’s a day-by-day process, evaluating how he feels and receiving feedback from him, our training staff, and our medical staff,” said Ham.
Given James’ adjusted role, it becomes crucial for the Lakers to seek productive contributions from their 30-year-old center, Anthony Davis.
In Denver, Davis led the Lakers with 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting in the first half, but went scoreless in the second half, missing all six of his field goal attempts.
“They started double-teaming, trying to crowd the paint. I missed some easy layups and jumpers,” Davis explained. “I try to make the right play, passing to our teammates. If I’m double-teamed, I’ll kick it out. Rui [Hachimura] had an open 3, Gabe [Vincent] had open 3s. They just didn’t go in. But I need to shoot more.”
Vincent, who scored six points on 3-for-8 shooting in his Lakers debut, acknowledged the importance of involving Davis but emphasized that every player needs to be aggressive on offense for the team to succeed.
“We will continue to get him involved, but it’s equally important for everyone to stay aggressive. Too often, we were caught standing still and watching. We all need to be assertive and play the game. We will find ways to be aggressive and go from there,” Vincent said.
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