Lakers eye draft lottery

With play-offs a tall order, team set to ease James' workload to improve their chances

LOS ANGELES • With 17 games to go and the Los Angeles Lakers 61/2 games behind the LA Clippers for the eighth and final play-off spot in the West, their post-season chances grow slimmer by the day.

So are the 34-year-old LeBron James' minutes, apparently.

According to multiple media reports on Thursday, the National Basketball Association team will scale back his workload for the remainder of the season.

Yahoo Sports' Chris Haynes, the first to report the plan, said both the Lakers' front office and people in his camp have agreed to limit the 15-time All-Star's playing time.

He could also sit out one side of back-to-back games, depending on how he feels. Citing anonymous sources, he will play "in the range of 28-32 minutes per game".

However, ESPN's Dave McMenamin reported later on Thursday that a source close to James said while the team are looking at a 32-minute limit, that number is more of "an advisement".

He also claimed that "James will have the leeway to play longer to finish out a competitive game should he deem fit, rather than be controlled by a hard cap".

Lakers coach Luke Walton confirmed with ESPN on Thursday, saying: "I will be monitoring his workload from here on.

"We want to make sure we're not only playing at our best come the end of the season, but also that he's fresh... We're continuing to try to be our best season by season, but also as each one goes on."

The four-time Most Valuable Player currently averages 35.6 minutes this term, despite being into his 16th year in the league.

The Lakers have three sets of back-to-back games remaining on their schedule. Given that the major projection models now give them less than a 1 per cent chance to make the post-season, it makes sense for the team to wrap James in cotton wool to improve their chances in the draft lottery.

But the forward still wants his teammates to "keep playing to the end and see what happens" ahead of today's match-up with the Boston Celtics at the Staples Centre.

He said: "Everyone has been talking about the post-season, but we need to worry about each and every game and how we can get better with our team.

"At the end of the year, the chips will fall where they may."

Unless a miracle happens, James, who has made the NBA Finals in all the past eight seasons, will fail to reach the play-offs for the first time since 2004-05, his second season in the league.

His team, meanwhile, are on track to miss the post-season for the sixth straight year, the longest drought in their 71-year history.

Separately, the Lakers will not fine or discipline Rajon Rondo for his behaviour in the final minute of their 115-99 loss to the Denver Nuggets, ESPN cited sources as saying on Thursday. The guard took a courtside fan seat off the bench, away from his teammates, but it was something he claimed he had done "eight, 10 times this year".

REUTERS, WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 09, 2019, with the headline 'Lakers eye draft lottery'. Print Edition | Subscribe