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LeBron James’ playing time next topic of concern for injury-plagued Lakers

LeBron James’ playing time next topic of concern for injury-plagued Lakers
LeBron James is averaging 35.7 minutes a game, about three below his career average. (Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)

LeBron James sat at his locker with plastic wrapped around his waist to hold an ice pack on his back after the Lakers’ loss to the Clippers on Monday night.

He’d just played 42 minutes of basketball, and more than 120 minutes in the span of four days. With the Lakers (30-34) desperately trying to stay in the playoff race, they needed him for as many minutes as he could give.

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“Just as tired as I would be after any game,” James said when asked how he felt. “No difference. … Obviously I’m in the treatment process right now to get ready for Wednesday, we’ve got one of the best teams in the league coming to our building in Denver. So I have to mentally and physically prepare myself.”

Coach Luke Walton was asked last weekend if he planned to continue giving heavy minutes to his main players, including James, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram, and he indicated that the Lakers had little choice but to do so. Now, that might change, whether by necessity or in consideration of the future.

For James, it would be the latter.

“That’s a conversation that would probably be had between me and Luke,” James said when asked if he might get less playing time with the playoffs increasingly appearing out of reach.

“And going forward, I don’t know what the mathematic [probability is] — what’s going on with the postseason and things of that nature. … You kind of look at the rest of the games, and look at the percentages of what’s going on there in the future, and see what makes more sense for not only me but the team itself.”

Tuesday the Lakers arrived at their training facility with barely enough healthy bodies for a true practice. Five players couldn’t practice because of injuries that could keep them out of Wednesday’s game against the Denver Nuggets. Three more were held out for precautionary reasons: Josh Hart, Rajon Rondo and James.

James isn’t the only player whose usage could change. After averaging nearly 40 minutes in back-to-back games Friday and Saturday, Ingram might be unavailable Wednesday, and Kuzma has been ruled out.

Ingram, who didn’t play Monday or practice Tuesday, is questionable after he began to feel soreness in his right shoulder following Monday’s shootaround. Kuzma planted his right foot awkwardly late in Monday’s game and an MRI exam Tuesday confirmed a minor ankle sprain; he could miss a week.

Tyson Chandler (neck stiffness) and Lance Stephenson (sprained left second toe) also are questionable for the game.

Lonzo Ball still is recovering from an ankle sprain he sustained in January, which involved a fully torn ligament and bone bruise. After practice, wearing street clothes and sneakers, Ball did some stationary shooting — he went through the motions without jumping to take shots. It’s the most on-court work Ball has done and the Lakers plan to re-evaluate him this week.

It all meant Tuesday’s session at the Lakers facility had to be less active than ideal. Still, Walton insisted the team responded well to Monday’s disappointment, which left them 5½ games behind the San Antonio Spurs for the eighth and final playoff spot with 18 games to go.

“Guys are upset about losing and where we’re at,” Walton said. “As we try to continue to build things, you have to build ... you have to be resilient with who you are and who we are as a group. And it’s tough times right now. We can’t let that get us down. We got to continue to develop our habits and continue to work as a group and define how we handle ourselves.”

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UP NEXT

VS. DENVER

When: 7:30 p.m., Wednesday

On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet, ESPN; Radio: 710, 1330

Update: The Lakers and Nuggets come into this game having lost their last three games, Denver to the Utah Jazz, New Orleans Pelicans and Spurs.

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