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LeBron James’ ability to sustain his durability for rest of season key to Los Angeles Lakers’ playoff chances

lebron james
Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

For a player who has broken records both with his talent and longevity, Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James has the chance to set a new milestone.

It seems out of reach for James to win his fifth NBA championship and second overall with the Lakers. The Lakers (31-28) enter Wednesday’s game against the Los Angeles Clippers (37-19) in ninth place in the Western Conference standings. With 23 games left, the Lakers have a bumpy path toward a deep playoff push without home-court advantage as either a sixth seed or a Play-In candidate.

In his 21st NBA season, however, the 39-year-old James appears on track to log his most appearances in a single regular-season in his six seasons with the Lakers.

“It’s not surprising at all,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said.

LeBron James has played 51 out of the Lakers’ 59 regular-season games so far and the NBA Cup, which didn’t count in the official standings. James has already played more this season than he did during the 2020-21 campaign (45 out of 72 games). James has also nearly surpassed his regular-season participation in 2017-18 (55 out of 82), 2021-22 (56 out of 82) and last season (55 out of 82). James could even top the regular-season games he played in the 2019-20 season (67 out of 71), which included eight regular-season games in the NBA bubble following a four-month pause during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Technically the Lakers have listed James as questionable for Wednesday’s game against the Clippers. For most of the season, though, the Lakers have cleared James to play after completing a pre-game warmup. James has missed eight games this season to heal his left ankle (six) and left calf (two). Part of those absences included sitting out in the Lakers’ games before and after the All-Star break after receiving treatment on his left ankle during All-Star weekend. Will that allow him to resume the rest of the season mostly healthy?

“That’s the hope,” James said. “Nothing is 100%, but that’s the hope.”

LeBron James’ health will impact Los Angeles Lakers playoff hopes

lebron james
Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

No pressure, but that variable will largely dictate whether the Lakers can make a deep playoff push just like when they advanced to last year’s Western Conference Finals as a seventh seed.

James has averaged 25 points while shooting efficiently from the field (52.4%) and from 3-point range (40%) along with 7.9 assists and 7.2 rebounds per game. That technically marks a slight decrease to what he averaged in 2021-22 (30.3 points) and in 2022-23 (28.9 points). Yet, those numbers actually represent positive developments as opposed to any signs of James feeling Father Time’s strain.

After also nursing various injuries during his time with the Lakers (2019-present), Anthony Davis has become the most durable and productive version of himself this season. He has averaged 24.9 points on 55.7% shooting along with 12.3 rebounds and 2.4 blocks in 55 out of 59 regular-season games, which already tops the amount of games he played in 2020-21 (36 out of 72), 2021-22 (40 out of 82) and 2022-23 (56 out of 82). Davis also could surpass the amount of games he logged in the 2019-20 campaign (62 out of 71), which included the aforementioned four-month pause during the pandemic.

The Lakers have shown inconsistency with both their supporting cast’s production and with Ham’s rotations. Nonetheless, the Lakers have played well enough to win seven of their last 10 games. That has enabled James to play an average of 34.9 minutes per contest, a slight decrease from what he played in 2021-22 (37.2 minutes) and in 2022-23 (35.5).

“You see the work he puts in from the nutrition again and the sleeping habits and the way it’s all calculated,” Ham said.

James hasn’t shared many details over that exact regimen. In recent seasons, though, James has said he has prioritized a protein-heavy diet, drinking more water than wine and sleeping for at least eight hours a day. After missing a combined 13 games with a sore right foot that hobbled him last year during the latter part of the Lakers’ playoff run, James hasn’t specified whether he had off-season surgery. Nonetheless, he said he has felt fully healed from that ailment.

Though James described his recently hobbled left ankle as “okay,” he stressed that his treatment during All-Star weekend had nothing to do with the injury worsening.

“It wasn’t something that we just came out of the blue,” James said. “We had already clocked it months ago. Knowing the schedule, just seeing ways that we can maximize days when we have the opportunity. That was that stretch right there.”

The Lakers’ next stretch will require James to complete a sprint after initially managing a season-long marathon. Following the Lakers’ designated road game against the Clippers, they will play 10 of their next 11 games at home within a 25-day span. Nine of those games will feature teams slated to make either the playoffs or Play-In tournament.

The Lakers fully expect James will maintain his season-long durability and dominance to close out the 2023-24 campaign. After all, consider Ham’s response on whether he felt surprised James has already played in so many games in his 21st season.  

“Not really,” Ham said. “You see him work.”

Mark Medina is an NBA insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on XInstagramFacebook and Threads.

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