The Lakers staved off the Thunder on Tuesday night to make it to 12-2, as they and the Celtics at 11-2 have the best records in the NBA thus far. LeBron James had a triple double and Anthony Davis had 34 points while this win came potentially at a long-term cost: They both had to play 37 minutes to make sure they beat a team against whom they were favored by 11, at home.
LeBron and AD are tied for 11th in the NBA with 34.9 minutes per game. Davis has missed a game with shoulder issues, while LeBron has played in all 14 of the Lakers' contests. It seems pretty clear that their strategy (at least for now) is to feast on the league as the rest of the teams ease into the season, build a buffer, and solidify a playoff spot in case something goes awry with their bodies later in the regular season like what happened with LeBron's groin on Christmas last year.
Nonetheless, LeBron especially deserves credit for gutting out all these minutes right now. He is 35 years old, coming off the first season he sustained a serious injury of his career, and he's treating the regular season like it actually matters. This is something customers of the NBA -- ticket-holders, the TV partners, and people who watch the games on TV -- should appreciate in an era where load management and general minutes and effort modulation make October through April feel more like a tune-up for the two-month playoff gauntlet.
Whether this is actually in the Lakers' long-term best interest is debatable. Perhaps they'd be better suited to win a ring if LeBron and Davis have fresher bodies in May and June. But at the same time, they have to make sure they get there first, too, and the Lakers don't really have the depth to win so many games while massaging minutes.
In the end, though, LeBron could easily be playing less minutes and less games. But he's committing to the idea that the journey matters. As we rightfully criticize Kawhi Leonard and the Clippers for doing the opposite, we should applaud LeBron for leading by example.