MIAMI – LeBron James knows what Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra is thinking, how he's hoping that this plan to preserve the reigning MVP's legs pays off when the playoffs roll around.
These are the sorts of things Spoelstra deems necessary to survive the long season, as the Heat are attempting to become the first team since the Boston Celtics in the mid-1980s to reach the NBA Finals four consecutive times. The goal, of course, is to secure the league's first three-peat since the Los Angeles Lakers in the early 2000s.
But as James made clear after practice at American Airlines Arena Tuesday, understanding the approach and endorsing it aren't necessarily the same thing.
"I'm not playing as many minutes as I would like, but Spo is in control of that," James said when asked about his current view of his game this season. "But as far as my game, I feel pretty good."
The widely-held assumption among fans and media is that this was a shared strategy. But James, who is averaging a career-low 36.9 minutes per game and who played a season-low 28 minutes in Sunday's home win vs. the San Antonio Spurs, said that was not the case.
"Yeah, I don't like playing less," said James, who will take on MVP frontrunner Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder at home at 7 p.m. Wednesday. "I don't feel like I need to play less. I can understand that we've been playing a lot of basketball, so Spo is monitoring that as well. But don't ever put it out there that LeBron wants to play less."
James wasn't the only Heat player who took the time to clarify perceptions about his place in this Heat puzzle. After an extremely rare game in which Dwyane Wade came off the bench in what was his first game played in the last five, he made it widely known that he expects to return to the starting lineup against the Thunder. And as far the idea that maybe a Sixth Man role would be better suited for him given all the lingering knee trouble of these past few years?
"I haven't came off the bench since the '08 Olympics and I haven't came off the bench in Miami since my rookie year (2003-04), (when he was) coming back from injury," Wade said. "I asked (Spoelstra) to do that (against the Spurs), but I didn't ask him to take me out of the starting lineup for the whole year … We can quit that conversation right now. It was just something right there (in) that game. I'll get back to my role with this team tomorrow."
Wade's always-uncertain status continues to be a major factor for the Heat, who are just 7-6 this season in games played without him. His current stretch is easily the most challenging of this campaign, as he has missed five of the last eight games and scored a combined 24 points in those games. Nonetheless, the Heat (32-12) are still just 2 ½ games behind the Indiana Pacers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.