INDEPENDENCE: At various turns last season, LeBron James said he wanted to play in all 82 games and that he’d like to make a run at 70 victories at some point in his career.
It’s still early but, for now, James’ goals are much more vague. What remains clear is that his decreasing minutes total during the regular season is likely to continue.
James’ minutes have been trending downward for the last four seasons, culminating in a career-low 35.6 per game last season. Now coach Tyronn Lue and the Cavs’ medical staff continue to focus on rest for both James and Kyrie Irving, who followed his Finals championship with an Olympics gold medal.
“My thing is just making sure guys are healthy, continue to limit LeBron’s minutes … watch Kyrie’s minutes because we know we’re playing for something big,” Lue said. “We know when we get to the playoffs it’s going to require a lot of minutes so with those guys and with Kevin [Love], just have to watch guys getting to the red zone.”
The Cavs’ medical team closely monitors players’ energy levels during the season and focuses on maximizing rest. That presents itself in different forms. This year, for example, the team is expected to stay over in visiting cities following road games more than ever. It’s a trend that started a few years ago in an effort to maximize rest and allow the body time to recover, rather than flying through the night and disrupting sleep patterns.
More directly, it could also mean taking games off. James reiterated Wednesday he felt well enough last season to play in all 82 games — something he has never done in his career. He played in 76 last season, and while he didn’t work out three times a day in September like he did last year, he is entering this season with a similar mindset.
“I’m very stubborn when it comes to wanting to play. But they also know I’ve put a lot of miles on my body over the last six years from going to the Finals every single year, so health and longevity for our team is very important,” James said. “It’s very key not only for me but for our team, so as good as I feel, they still want to keep a close eye on it and I know [Lue] is going to try and keep a close eye on it, and the coaching staff and the training staff are going to keep a close eye.”
“And we all come together as a unit because it’s a partnership with us, figure out the best way for me to get rest but at the same time be out on the floor.”
Irving has appeared in less than 60 games in two of the last four regular seasons, although once he returned from his fractured kneecap last December, he stayed healthy the remainder of the season. Love has an extensive injury history as well, although he shed back and shoulder issues last year to play in 77 games — matching the second-highest total of his career.
The Cavs treated the regular season as a slow build toward the postseason. While the Golden State Warriors were charging toward a historic 73-win season, the Cavs finished with just 57 victories. Lue and James have both made it clear they want to play with more urgency this season than the team showed at times last season, but maintaining a pace that will leave the roster healthy in April remains the most important task.
“In the playoffs, health is more important than anything,” Lue said. “As long as we can get to the playoffs healthy I will be very excited about that.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ.