The 2021-22 season didn’t get off to an ideal start for LeBron James.
He has already missed a couple of games due to an ankle injury, now he is set to miss 1-2 weeks due to an abdominal strain.
For so long the league’s ironman, James has found himself regularly on the sidelines since he signed with the Los Angeles Lakers ahead of the 2018-19 season.
He appeared in 55 games in his first season with the team, with a severe groin injury on Christmas Day being the main concern.
Last season, it was a high ankle sprain that kept him only 45 regular season appearances on the shortened 72-game schedule.
Just two weeks this season and those ankle and abdomen strains took him out of training.
Sure, we missed the championship win in the 2019-20 season, but it’s worth noting that the three-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly aided his recovery ahead of the post-season bubble run.
LeBron will turn 37 on December 30, is 19 in the league and has averaged 37.1 minutes per game in six games this season. The minute loading is in seventh place in the league for minutes per game this season. No other player in the top six is older than 30.
His 50,277 regular-season minutes are fifth in NBA history, while his 11,035 playoff minutes are in first place and nearly 2,000 ahead of TIm Duncan in second.
When healthy, LeBron still looks like the machine we’ve gotten used to looking at for nearly two decades. With an average of 24.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists, James is clearly still the best and most important player on the Los Angeles Lakers roster with a much younger Anthony Davis who has a long history of injuries.
Quite simply, James is why the Lakers entered the 2021-22 season as the favorites to leave the Western Conference. Chemistry issues aside, the Lakers will be a formidable opponent in the postseason if they make it to the playoffs with a healthy LeBron.
To do this, it may be necessary to change the approach with the way they handle its load during the regular season.
During his first 15 seasons, LeBron lost only 71 of the possible 1,214 regular season games.
During his last three seasons he has lost 58 of the possible 225.
In the age of minute and load management, James has attempted to plow, determined to prove he is truly invincible. With injuries on the rise, it may be time for the Lakers to play the long game.
Perhaps this means keeping his minutes in the 1930s. Maybe it means taking off the back to back every now and then, maybe it means letting Russell Westbrook take more responsibility for handling the ball. These are all logical suggestions, but none are ideal.
Given that the Lakers have lost twice to the Oklahoma City Thunder with no LeBron in formation, the bigger question might be whether the Lakers can afford to do it and still stay close to the top of the Western Conference?