From the start of the 2015-16 season, LeBron James made it clear that he was going to have a different approach this year.
James came into training camp touting Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving as the captains of the offence while insisting that he would play fewer minutes and pace himself until the playoffs.
“I think I’ll be very smart with how many minutes I play per game and what I’m doing on the floor,” James told reporters in September. “I think Kevin Love will allow me to sit a lot this year just because of his ability, what he’s able to do. Kyrie as well. So I won’t have to worry about playing big minutes this year.”
It became an important point for the Cavaliers. James missed two weeks with a bad back in 2014-15, and had to get an anti-inflammatory shot in the middle of last season and again before the start of this season. With over 36,000 career minutes logged before the start of the season, it would be crucial for James to pace himself if the Cavs wanted a shot at getting back to the Finals.
The Cavaliers largely accomplished their goal. LeBron averaged 35 minutes per game this season, the fewest of his career, while playing 76 games. In the playoffs, there’s been an expected increase to nearly 38 minutes per game, but it’s still four fewer minutes per game than he played in last year’s postseason.
Now, the Cavs are reaping the rewards. As ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh noted on “SportsCenter”, James is far more explosive in the Finals than last year. According to Haberstroh, LeBron had 16 postseason dunks last year — he has 33 this year through 17 games.
“He has twice as many dunks in 199 fewer minutes,” Haberstroh said.
James showed off his explosiveness with a jaw-dropping alley-oop in Game 3 of the Finals.
However, LeBron’s fresh legs matter in more ways than just dunks. He’s also shooting 52% from the field this postseason and 33% on three-pointers, despite a shooting slump from deep. Last year, James shot just 41.7% from the field, 22% from three. If LeBron can find his rhythm and his jumper, which he showed signs of in Game 3, look out, NBA.
It’s difficult to keep your best player off the floor in the regular season and playoffs, but the Cavaliers managed it and now they’re reaping the benefits. It may not lead to a championship, but they have ensured that they’re getting the freshest version of LeBron James possible.
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