Four-time NBA champion LeBron James played a total of 29 minutes in Tuesday’s season opener. After the game, second-year Lakers coach Darvin Ham suggested that James’ workload on was indicative of the team’s plan going forward.
“It’s easy with him to get caught up in the emotion of the game, and you tend to forget you want to play these long stretches, but in order for him to be as effective as possible, we have to be mindful of the minute output and how long his stretches are,” Ham said.
But as the Lakers headed into the fourth quarter in their second game of the season, the team faced another deficit. Ham then had a pivotal decision to make. He had to weigh the importance of sticking with James’ minutes restriction or utilize the superstar to help the team avoid an 0-2 start to the season.
Ham ultimately decided to rely on James, and the choice paid off. James played every single minute of the fourth quarter and delivered a clutch performance to help lift the Lakers to a 100-95 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
“He asked me if I could go the [whole] quarter, and I looked at the time and the score and what was going on in the game, and it was an easy answer for myself,” James said after finishing with 21 points, 9 assists and 8 rebounds in 35 minutes. “I know how much work I’ve put in to be able to play quarters or whatever the case may be. And I understand that we definitely have a system put in place, but tonight called for me to go outside the box.”
James made the tiebreaking layup with 1:11 to play for the Lakers, who rallied from a 12-point deficit to get their first victory of the new season in the home opener of James’ 21st NBA campaign.
Meanwhile, Suns superstar Kevin Durant finished the game with 39 points and 11 rebounds while moving into 12th place on the NBA’s career scoring list.
But James, who reigns atop that list, stepped up with back-to-back layups in the final 90 seconds to seize the win in another memorable meeting.
“We’ve had so many battles, (and) we don’t have many matchups left,” the 38-year-old James said. “Not sure how many we have left, so you don’t ever want to take it for granted when you’re out there with such a great player, one of the best to ever play this game. It’s always a treat. It’s fun.”
The Lakers struggled mightily whenever James was off the court in the first half on Thursday, which likely prompted James and Ham to throw out the plan for one night. James played for a total of 23 minutes in the first three quarters.
James was sidelined with a foot injury for 27 games during the 2022-23 NBA season, but he averaged 35.5 minutes per game over his 55 appearances. He played in 56 games during the 2021-22 campaign.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.