LeBron James focusing on health over playoff seeding: 'I got to be smart with it'

The Lakers are currently in a play-in spot with nine games to play

This season is only the second time since 2017-18 that LeBron James has played more than 60 games during the regular season. (Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)

There are nine games left in the Los Angeles Lakers' season and at 41-32 they sit ninth in the Western Conference. Currently in a play-in spot, they are just outside the first-round picture while also not entirely with a firm grasp on a playoff seed.

LeBron James is already thinking postseason, however. After a rocky start, the Lakers have won five in a row, seven out of their last 10 games and are tied for the third-best winning percentage (.750) in the NBA since the start of February. At 39, the four-time MVP has seen his work load lighten as he's gotten older. This season is only the second time since 2017-18 that he's played more than 60 games during the regular season.

With that in mind, James knows where the Lakers are in the playoff chase, but he also understands his body and value to the Lakers when he's healthy.

"I got to be smart with it," James said Wednesday, via ESPN, about focusing on his health over where the Lakers land in the Western Conference playoff picture. "If I'm not healthy, or [anywhere] close to being healthy, then it's not good for our ballclub anyway. It's not good for me."

James has been hampered by an ankle injury this season, one that caused him to sit out Tuesday's win over the Milwaukee Bucks. He returned for Wednesday's win over the Memphis Grizzlies and posted his fourth triple-double of the season (23 points, 14 rebounds, 12 assists).

It's a "strategic" approach that James and the Lakers are taking with his health and the playoffs possibly on the horizon. He said that if the focus was solely about moving up in the standings and getting out of the play-in, he likely would have pushed himself to play Tuesday night.

As long as his teams have been in the postseason, James has never missed a playoff game in his career due to injury.

The playoffs look likely, but are no guarantee yet for the Lakers. If they clinch a spot, James will be rested. Until that's set, they will need him to be close to 100% for the nights he's on the floor in order to ensure postseason basketball.

"Obviously, understanding and seeing how my ankle and my foot is feeling," James said. "But just being very smart about it, obviously. We are where we are, but our health has always been the most important for our ballclub. Not just one individual. But for me looking out for myself when it comes to injury and knowing my foot and knowing my ankle and how it reacts, and how it's been over the last couple of years, it's just always keeping a hefty eye on it."