Seven weeks and 19 games into the Miami Heat’s postseason grind, James had moments in Game 1 of The Finals on Tuesday when the fatigue of it all peeked through. A big exhale during a dead ball, those broad shoulders visibly slumping for a second or two. One play where he wound up on the floor and took just a little longer to rise before forcing himself to catch up on the other end.
James played almost 46 minutes, his ninth consecutive game logging 43 or more on his and the Heat’s push toward an NBA championship. Coach Erik Spoelstra, who divvied up 228 of the game’s 240 available minutes to just six players, is leaning heavily on the league’s Most Valuable Player, as are his teammates, as are the Miami fans, as are the league honchos and network executives and broadcast sponsors and …
So when James entertained, however briefly, the idea of rest, however brief, after his team’s 105-94 loss to Oklahoma Cityin the series opener, he was almost immediately assailed by some of his ever-present critics. All it took was a simple statement of fact — “We’re going to have to have more guys in there to give me and [Dwyane Wade] a rest” — to bring out the cynics. Hey, you never saw Michael Jordan, Larry Bird or Magic Johnson asking for rest in The Finals!
It’s the world James lives in. Fans surely aren’t going to give it a rest anytime soon. And from the sound of it, the same might be true for Spoelstra with James.
“I’ll probably go a little bit deeper into the rotation obviously, try to get the guys a little more rest,” he said on the day before Game 2. “But we’re not making any excuses. Their two top guys played the same amount of minutes. … Fatigue wasn’t an issue.”
Like a lot of coaches, Spoelstra relies on timeouts — particularly the XXL ones of the playoffs, whether wedged into quarters or spacing out halves — to regulate his guys’ minutes. “Little pockets of time,” he calls them, that can bring some relief without costingMiamieven a tick on the game clock of James’ or others’ services. Then there’s the playoff pace — turnover, foul, free throw, all in a halfcourt game — that can stretch one or two minutes out of the game to five, six or seven real minutes on the bench. “You know, at this point, there’s 10 days left in the season,” Spoelstra said. “Both teams have played quite a few minutes up to this point, and we’re very capable, and our guys understand that.”
How do the two Finals teams stack up in minutes and grind? Let’s compare:
•Miamihas played 19 playoff games, with one extra game in each of the first three rounds: five againstNew York, six againstIndianaand seven againstBoston. Oklahoma City got through Dallas in four, the L.A. Lakers in five and San Antonio in six for a total now of 16.
• In terms of days between rounds and available rest, the Thunder has a big edge: 18 days in the gaps between its series (8-5-5), compared to the Heat’s eight (3-3-2).
•Miamihas four players who are averaging at least 32 minutes per game (James 42.6, Wade 39.3, Mario Chalmers 35.4 and Shane Battier 32.8).Oklahoma Cityis using only Kevin Durant (41.9) and Russell Westbrook (37.4) that heavily, with six other players logging 16-30 minutes on average.
• James has played an NBA-high 809 minutes this postseason, third-most so far in his seven playoffs trips. Durant, in three fewer games, has played 670 minutes. Add in their regular-season minutes and James has 3,135 on his 2011-12 meter compared to Durant’s 3,216 (thanks to a league-leading 2,546 in the first 66 games).
• Durant played more than 40 minutes in a game 29 times in the regular season and 12 times in 16 playoff games, with six of 43 minutes or more. James’ parallel numbers: 18, 15 of 19 and 11 — including the past nine. In fact, over that stretch forMiami– nine games in 20 days — James has averaged 45:41.
This isn’t just a James vs. Durant comparison, though. In the young legs department, the Heat superstar, at 27, is closer in age and mileage to “old man” Wade, 30, than he is to Durant, 23. This is more about James and his giant minutes, in terms of what’s best for him andMiamiand in terms of what traditionally has worked.