Cleveland coach Mike Brown vowed to cut down LeBron James’ minutes this season after the Cavaliers star averaged the second-highest total in the NBA in 2005-06. So far, Brown has yet to make good on that promise.
Following their first loss in three games this season, James and the Cavs retune home to take on the Atlanta Hawks (2-1) on Tuesday night.
James averaged 31.4 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.6 assists last season in 79 starts, playing 42.5 minutes per game. Little has changed in the early going in 2006-07.
James, who led Cleveland to a seventh game against Detroit in the second round of last season’s playoffs and then played in the world championships over the summer, has averaged 40.2 minutes in the first three contests this season.
“You can say he’s young, and it won’t affect him, but it might hurt in the playoffs or 3-4-5 years down the road,” Brown said before the season of the 21-year-old James’ workload. “I have too much respect for his career. He is a huge chunk of this franchise.”
James struggled Saturday in the Cavs’ loss to Charlotte, shooting 3-of-13 from the field for 16 points following a 35-point performance the night before in San Antonio.
Cleveland shot just 38 percent from the floor and committed 19 turnovers against the Bobcats.
“I don’t think it was fatigue,” James said. “It’s early in the season, so we shouldn’t have much fatigue. We got in at 4 a.m. after our win last night, but it’s something we have to get used to and hope it doesn’t affect us late in the season.”
James collided with Bobcats guard Brevin Knight as the two chased after a loose ball in the final minute of the game. James dropped to the court in a heap before getting up and returning to the game.
“I’ve got a headache,” James said. “I barely remember it actually, but it felt like I got in a car accident.”
If Brown chooses to play James less Tuesday night, he’ll be getting fewer minutes from a player who averaged 38.5 points in two games against the Hawks last season. James missed the third matchup because of a sprained ankle.
The Hawks are looking for their first road win of the season. Atlanta won its second straight Sunday, 95-82 over Orlando as Joe Johnson scored 31 points on 11-of-19 shooting, and Josh Smith added 11 points and 11 rebounds.
Atlanta has suffered through seven straight losing seasons, including a 26-56 record last season and a franchise-worst 13-69 mark in 2004-05.
The last time the Hawks were over .500 before now was November 2002, when they were 6-5.
“We have another year under our belt,” Johnson said. “We’re maturing as a team. You can’t do much better than that—coming out and working hard every night. Right now we’re doing a really good job of that.”
Johnson averaged 20.2 points and led the Hawks in six categories last season following a trade from Phoenix. He was James’ teammate during the world championships.
“I thought this summer he played as well as I’ve seen him play and I thought he played great for us last season,” Atlanta coach Mike Woodson told hawks.com. “So we’re all expecting great things out of Joe this year.”
The Hawks lost two of three to the Cavaliers last season.