LeBron James is 36 years old, and with only 71 days between winning his fourth championship in the Orlando bubble and kicking off the 2020-21 season, the overwhelming expectation entering the year was that his workload would be managed carefully. Yet James has not missed a game this season, and the past three that the Lakers have played pushed him to the limit.
The Lakers went to overtime yet again on Wednesday in a 114-113 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder. That was their third consecutive overtime game, a feat they have not matched in nearly three decades. The Lakers went to overtime in their first three games of the 1991-92 season, and just as they needed two overtimes in the first game of that stretch against the Houston Rockets, they needed two overtimes to beat the Detroit Pistons in the first game of this stretch. Unlike that streak in 1991, though, the Lakers managed to win all three of their overtime games, including two without Anthony Davis.
The Lakers have LeBron to thank for that. He has played 130 minutes across the past three games, the most he has played in any three-game stretch as a Laker. That even includes the 2020 postseason, when he never reached 42 minutes played. He’s done that twice in the past two games and nearly did it again on Wednesday. The Lakers allowed James to skip his scheduled media availability after the game due to number of minutes he played.
The Lakers next play again on Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies. Resting him would be a tricky proposition as the game will be nationally televised on ESPN. They play on ESPN again on Sunday against the Denver Nuggets before moving back to local cable on Tuesday against the Minnesota Timberwolves. That would be a sensible game to rest James, as the Timberwolves have the worst record in the NBA. The following Thursday, the Lakers will play the Brooklyn Nets in one of the most anticipated games of the season, so having a fully rested James would help the Lakers use that game as a proper measuring stick against a possible Finals opponent.
But James has not wanted to skip games for rest at all so far this season. Whether or not he plans to do so now remains to be seen. If he does, the choice would be more than warranted. He’s carried his team through three grueling overtime slogs in a row, and he’s done it without his best teammate in the last two. If anyone deserves a night off, it’s him.