MIAMI (AP) — There are 27 games remaining on Cleveland’s regular-season schedule, and perhaps only one person over that stretch will be able to stop LeBron James.
That would be Cavs coach Tyronn Lue.
He has to protect James from himself.
Finding the right time to rest players is a conundrum that many NBA coaches have wrestled with for years, even more so now given the ways teams have been able to apply technology to the formula and use personalized data to help their medical and athletic training staffs determine when someone simply needs a break. The rest topic seems to become more prevalent as the season winds down, particularly after the All-Star break, with teams in the playoff race trying to ensure top players are healthy for the postseason.
As James nears 50,000 minutes for his NBA career — a milestone that he’ll likely reach during the upcoming playoffs — he abhors the idea of taking nights off. Yet there will almost certainly be nights over the next few weeks where James’ uniform stays on its game-night hanger, and fans who plunked down big money to see him play will have to deal with disappointment.
“Me being a competitor, me loving the game that I’ve loved every single day, I don’t always have the right assessment of me playing a lot of minutes,” James said. “That’s why I have coach Lue and the coaching staff and the training staff to be like ‘Hey, LeBron … let’s take it easy today.’ Me, I don’t ever want to take a day off.”
Only seven players appeared in all 82 of their teams’ regular-season games in 2015-16. It is becoming more and more of a rarity; in 2005-06 there were 14 players who appeared in 82 games, in 1995-96 the number was 25.
“At times, it may be necessary for a guy to rest whether if it’s on the road or it’s at home,” Toronto guard DeMar DeRozan said. “It’s a thin line.”
Some coaches make no secret about their desire to rest players. Foremost among them, of course, is San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, he who famously sat Tim Duncan for a game in 2012 citing “old” as the official reason, and who decided that Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili needed rest in the third game of this season — which just happened to be the Spurs’ home opener.
“It’s ridiculous,” Popovich said of the Spurs having to play four games in the season’s first six nights.
The schedule starting next season will have the 82 games played over a longer stretch of time, which NBA Commissioner Adam Silver hopes relieve some of the rest issues. When the Cavs sat James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love for a game at Memphis earlier this season, even some Cavs fans in attendance expressed their disappointment .
“The science has gotten to the point where there is that direct correlation that we’re aware of between fatigue and injuries,” Silver said. “And as tough as it is on our fans to miss one of their favorite players for a game, it’s far better than having them get injured and be out for long periods of time. So we’re always still looking to strike that right balance.”
Memphis coach David Fizdale said he listens to the Grizzlies’ medical staff when deciding when the time is right to give one of his players a break. Unfortunately, if there are many Marc Gasol fans in Minnesota, his nights to sit included the ones that fell on both of Memphis’ trips to visit the Timberwolves this season.
“Fans pay their hard-earned money to see you play,” Golden State guard Klay Thompson said. “The young guys like me, I don’t need to rest, but the old guys, the old superstars, they need a game or two off here and there. . Yeah, you feel for the fans.”
The vast majority of players polled at All-Star weekend said if it were up to them and they weren’t dealing with an injury, they’d play every night. Houston’s James Harden, who last missed a game two years ago and that was because of suspension, said he takes pride in not only playing every game but playing particularly well on the second night of back-to-backs.
No one has played more games since the start of the 2010-11 season than James, in large part because he rarely sits and because each of his last six seasons have all gone until the NBA Finals.
He ranks No. 2 in average minutes per night this season — topped by only Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, by a mere 9 seconds.
“I’m comfortable with whatever coach wants me to do out on the floor,” James said. “Whatever he gives me to do, I can figure it out.”