He isn’t indestructible. It only seems as though LeBron James is bionic.
He’s 28 years old and at the dawn of a second decade in an NBA career destined for the ages. He has been dealing with a back problem – call it soreness or spasms, because, according to James, it’s both – intermittently for a long time.
“Off and on, probably, since about my third year in the NBA,” James said Friday at practice.
The issue arose again Thursday night during the Heat’s victory against the Los Angeles Clippers after James tweaked his back while diving for a loose ball. He played through annoying pain, but only with the aid of hot packs while on the bench or stretching out flat on his back (see: Larry Bird in the old days) at courtside.
It was an incongruous sight for the home folk accustomed to watching James ramble, rumble and roar.
Now, a tricky back isn’t an unusual ailment for a professional basketball player, but this is King James’ back we’re talking about. He makes the two-time defending champion Heat the favorites to three-peat … if he’s healthy. If his back becomes a constant concern, though, paint the Heat as a question mark.
Another admission from James is that his back has been nagging him “since training camp.” He counts one game out of six this season when he’s felt fine.
“I felt good at Toronto,” he said.
James always has lived by the creed that he can play if he can get out of bed.
That might be why coach Erik Spoelstra seemed not to be worried about James going into Saturday night’s home game against Boston.
“He went through the workout (Friday),” Spoelstra said. “We’ll see how he feels, and go from there. Guys go through things.”
James said he’s “planning to play” against the Celtics.
But wouldn’t it be a good idea to give James the night off against what appears to be an overmatched Boston team? The Heat long have made no secret of Spoelstra’s “maintenance” program to facilitate players’ recovery from aches and pains, which this season started in the second game when Dwyane Wade rested to give his knees a break.
“I don’t like to rest,” James argued.
He sure doesn’t.
James has played 900-plus games and logged 36,000-plus minutes when playoffs are included. The exact math comes out to an average of 40.2 minutes per game – many of the hard-mileage variety – often while figuratively carrying a team, well, on his back.
Never has he missed extended time with a serious injury, and James said his back has felt worse at other times than it does now.
“I’ve had to sit out the second half of some games,” James said.
So, sit him for an entire game.
Give him some of Spo’s tender, lovin’ care Sunday and Monday ahead of non-game days.
Make him rest, because James isn’t going to ask out.
“There’s nothing you can do about it,” he said. “It’s stiff. It hurts a little bit. There’s nothing wrong in there where there’s structural damage. I know how to tackle it.”
He knows, but is disinclined to do it. A night wrapped in hot packs after specific exercise and treatment couldn’t hurt.
Wade said James never gives him any indication that the back is flaring up.
“LeBron James’ back has been sore for a while, and he’s still on pace … on a LeBron James pace,” Wade said. “He’s a special player.”
That’s all the more reason to protect James – mostly from himself – when an opportunity to do so presents itself, which is exactly what the Boston assignment amounts to.
What’s good for Wade ought to be good for James.
The guy is great, but he isn’t indestructible.