The 2021-22 season has not had an ideal start for LeBron James.
Since he already missed a couple of games due to an ankle injury, he will now miss 1-2 weeks due to abdominal strain.
For so long the league’s ironman, James has found himself on the bench regularly since signing with the Los Angeles Lakers prior to the 2018-19 season.
He appeared in his career-low 55 games in his first season with the team with a serious groin injury on Christmas Day, the main concern.
Last season, it was a sprained ankle that kept him to just 45 appearances in the regular season outside of the shortened 72-game schedule.
Just two weeks into this season and those ankle and tummy strains have knocked him out of the lineup.
Of course, we skipped the 2019-20 championship-winning season, but it’s worth noting that the three-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic certainly helped his recovery before the bubble postseason.
LeBron turns 37 on Dec. 30, is in year 19 in the league and in six games this season he averaged 37.1 minutes per game. The minute load ranks seventh in the league in minutes per game this season. No other player in the top six is over 30 years old.
His 50,277 regular-season minutes are the fifth-most in NBA history, while his playoff minute count of 11,035 ranks at number one and nearly 2,000 ahead of TIm Duncan in second.
When healthy, LeBron still looks like the machine we’ve grown used to looking at for the better part of two decades. Averaging 24.8 points, 5.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists, James is still clearly the best and most important player on a Los Angeles Lakers roster with a much younger Anthony Davis who has a long injury history.
Simply put, James is the reason the Lakers entered the 2021-22 season as the favorites to come out of 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 so, they may need to shift focus with how they handle their cargo during the regular season.
During his first 15 seasons, LeBron missed just 71 of a possible 1,214 regular season games.
During his last three seasons he missed 58 of a possible 225.
In the age of minute and load management, James has tried to break through, determined to prove that he really is invincible. With injuries on the rise, it may be time for the Lakers to play the long game.
Maybe that means keeping your minutes under thirty. Maybe it means occasionally taking his back, maybe it means letting Russell Westbrook take over the responsibility of handling the ball. They are all logical suggestions, but none are ideal.
Given that the Lakers have now lost twice to the Oklahoma City Thunder without LeBron in the lineup, the bigger question might be whether the Lakers can afford it and still be near the top of the Western Conference.