DENVER — LeBron James opened up his 21st season by being limited to 29 minutes in the Los Angeles Lakers‘ 119-107 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said the tapered workload for the 38-year-old superstar is part of the team’s plan moving forward.
“It’s easy with him to get caught up in the emotion of the game and you tend to forget you want to play these long stretches, but in order for him to be as effective as possible, we have to be mindful of the minute output and how long his stretches are,” Ham said.
The Nuggets led by as many as 18, jumping on L.A. in the opening quarter and riding the energy provided by a raucous Ball Arena crowd of 19,842 on hand to celebrate the first ring night in franchise history.
By the time the crowd was chanting “Who’s your daddy?” to mock the Lakers in the final minute, James was already done for the night, pulled with L.A. trailing 115-103.
James still led L.A. in scoring with 21 points on 10-for-16 shooting and was tied for the team high with eight rebounds. He added five assists and committed zero turnovers, and his plus-minus of plus-7 was the best of any of the Lakers starters.
“Listen, I mean, I always want to be on the floor. Especially when you got an opportunity to win a game or you feel like you can make an impact,” James said after the game. “But this is the system in place and I’m going to follow it.”
When asked if he would have to adjust his approach with less playing time night to night, James made it clear that he was confident in his ability to impact the game with the added rest built in.
“Besides the fact that we didn’t win,” James said, “I think for me, my performance and what I did individually in the time that I was out there, I think I was productive. I think so. I mean, I was a plus-7 for the game. No turnovers. I like the no turnovers more than anything.”
James played 35.5 minutes per game last season, the second most he played in five seasons with the Lakers, and ended up missing 27 games with a right foot injury.
At L.A.’s media day earlier this month, Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka said the team “partnered” with James to come up with a plan to “get him all the way to the end” this season.
Ham said that James’ longtime athletic trainer, Mike Mancias, was consulted in the decision. James said he was “not surprised or upset” with how his minutes were managed against the Nuggets.
While the team is opening the season with a plan to keep James in the 28-30 minute range, Ham said the number could fluctuate over time.
“It’s going to be a day-by-day process, gauging how he’s feeling, get communication from him, our training staff, our medical staff,” Ham said.
James’ adjusted role will make it even more imperative for L.A. to get productive play out of the 30-year-old big man Anthony Davis.
Davis led L.A. with 17 points on 6-for-11 shooting in the first half in Denver and went scoreless in the second half, going 0-for-6 from the field.
“They started double-teaming,” Davis explained. “They were trying to crowd the paint. I missed some easy layups around the rim and little jumpers. Just trying to make the right play, give it up to our guys. If I’m doubled, kick it out. Rui [Hachimura] had an open 3, Gabe [Vincent] had open 3s. They just didn’t fall. But I got to shoot it more.”
Vincent, who finished with six points on 3-for-8 shooting in his Laker debut, acknowledged the need to involve Davis, but said L.A. also needs every player looking for his shot to optimize the offense overall.
“I think we’re going to continue to try to get him involved,” Vincent said. “But it’s important everyone stays aggressive. I think too many times we were caught standing still and watching. I think we all got to be aggressive and play the game. We’re going to continue to find him and continue to find ways to be aggressive and so forth, so, we’ll go from there.”