LeBron James certainly doesn’t look tired.
Despite playing a near-league-leading 37.6 minutes per game in his 14th NBA season — 39 minutes per game since the All-Star break — and after having played well into June for six straight years, James looks pretty spry.
Look no further than Thursday night against the Detroit Pistons, when James turned back the clock, throwing down seven dunks. It was his most dunks in a game in eight years, en route to scoring 29 points.
Though the Cavaliers lost, 106-101, to the Pistons, it seemed like a statement from James.
In a season when he’s actively called for more help off the bench (he got it in the form of Derrick Williams, Deron Williams, and briefly, Andrew Bogut) in light of Kevin Love and J.R. Smith’s injuries, James hasn’t taken his foot off the pedal. In fact, he’s even brushed aside suggestions that he rest more, saying, “I rest when I retire.”
James’ minutes and the potential burnout is a serious worry, particularly as the Cavs gear up for another deep playoff run. However, James’ high-flying performance Thursday night seemed to laugh at that concern.
This season, James has already dunked 106 times in 58 games, which averages out to 1.8 dunks per game. Over an 82-game schedule, James is on pace for 149 dunks. Of course, James won’t play 82 games this season (he’s already sat out five games). But using that as a baseline, that would be his most dunks in a season since 2012-13 when James threw down 147 dunks in 76 games — 1.9 dunks per game — according to NBA.com/Stats.
The takeaway, of course, is that tired 32-year-olds don’t repeatedly attack the rim with such ferocity as James. He’s obviously feeling good.
Regardless of how James is feeling, the Cavs would be wise to bring down his minutes. The problem is the Cavs haven’t been functional with James off the court. As ESPN’s Dave McMenamin notes, the Cavs outscored the Pistons by 18 points in the 39 minutes James was on the court. In the nine minutes he was on the bench? The Cavs were outscored by 23.
For the season, with James on the bench, the Cavaliers are being outscored by 8.3 points per 100 possessions. To put that into perspective, with James on the bench, the Cavs are roughly the net equivalent of the dead-last Brooklyn Nets, who for the season, have been outscored by 7.8 points per 100 possessions.
Despite having a deep and talented bench, Cavs coach Tyronn Lue has yet to find the right buttons to push to maintain leads when James is resting. With just over a month remaining in the regular season, there will have to be some urgency to figure out the rotations and find ways to sustain competitiveness when James isn’t on the floor.
In the meantime, when he’s on the floor, James is going to keep dunking.
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