Lakers keep a watchful eye on LeBron James’ rising minutes

With great scoring responsibility comes great minutes. At least normally.

Entering Sunday night, LeBron James was averaging 28.6 points per game, his highest average since the 2009-10 season when he played in Cleveland. He was leading the NBA in 30-plus-point games (15) despite only having played in 25 games this season before tip-off against the Timberwolves. He was launching nearly eight 3-pointers a game while shooting at his best deep percentage (37.6%) since 2013-14.

But James’ minutes are also up – rising to 36.8 per game as the Lakers are leaning on him more without Anthony Davis in the lineup. That’s the most since the 2017-18 season, before James came to Los Angeles.

If James keeps up that average throughout the season, it would make him just the third player in NBA history 37 or older to average at least 36 minutes per game, joining Michael Jordan and Karl Malone.

Asking about James’ workload tends to be a touchy subject, especially with James himself.

“That’s just my mindset: don’t get involved in how many minutes I played, how many days off,” James said last month. “I don’t confine to that. I think (if) you think negative thoughts or negative energy, it just creeps into your mind.”

When asked about James’ minutes, Vogel quipped that against Portland, James only played 29 minutes on his way to a season-high 43 points. But in the larger picture, Vogel said he pays more attention how much James’ minutes seem to wear on him.

“Sometimes he can play 32, 34 high-usage, heavyweight fight-type minutes,” Vogel said. “And sometimes like, I think it was the Houston game where he started at center, he was just in a good rhythm all night and didn’t really look overexerted at any point in the game. So we just keep an eye on that more than the total numbers.”

Rondo out of protocols

The Lakers no longer have any players in the NBA’s COVID-19 protocol system as of Sunday afternoon: Rajon Rondo tested out after entering protocols on Dec. 26.

While he was unavailable on Sunday night under a reconditioning designation, Rondo isn’t expected to remain on the Lakers long. A widely reported trade with Cleveland is imminent, with the Lakers planning to ship Rondo in exchange for Denzel Valentine, whose partially guaranteed contract will be cut to create a roster spot.

The team cannot comment on pending trades, but Vogel acknowledged that Rondo would not attend the game on Sunday night.

The Lakers are coming up on the end of 10-day contracts of Stanley Johnson and Darren Collison. Johnson started the game against the Timberwolves; Collison was inactive for the second straight game. With the number of players now available for the Lakers, it’s unlikely they can sign another 10-day contract player under the hardship waiver.

Johnson has stood out starting three games for the Lakers in his stint. Vogel said the final decision will be up to Rob Pelinka and the front office, but added that Johnson has done “everything he can” to show he can help the Lakers if they choose to use the roster spot on him.

“He’s playing small ball center and sometimes that unlocks things with certain players,” he said of Johnson. “And I think he’s shown us a lot and shown us that that could be a positional shift for him that could help his career.”

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